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Examining the Trade Market for Starlin Castro

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Who wants a 28-year-old second baseman? And how does Castro stack up against other trade candidates?

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Stats current through 6/29 games

With just a month remaining until the 2018 MLB trade deadline, teams are separating themselves into two distinct categories: buyers and sellers. With the Marlins sitting at a record of 33-50 and 14 12 games out of the division lead, they will clearly fall into the latter category. One of the names that will be shopped for the next month will be starting second baseman Starlin Castro.

Castro was acquired in the blockbuster trade this past winter that sent franchise star Giancarlo Stanton to The Evil Empire. The primary reason for including the 28-year-old second baseman in the deal was to offset some of the salary headed to the Bronx. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Castro was set to make approximately $11 million in both 2018 and 2019, with a $16 million club option in 2020 that features a $1 million buyout clause. In other words, he’s not exactly cheap, but the contract is movable if he was performing well.

Ely mentioned this in a piece just the other day, but if the season were to end today, Castro would have posted the third-worst slugging percentage in his career, a paltry .388. To date, the right hander is batting .276/.324/.388 on the year while hitting five home runs and batting in 31 runs.

The low slugging percentage begged the question for me: does Castro just not hit the ball as hard anymore? Thanks for FanGraphs, we can examine the numbers.

Starlin Castro Batted Balls Profile

Year Team Soft Hit % Medium Hit % Hard Hit % SLG %
Year Team Soft Hit % Medium Hit % Hard Hit % SLG %
2010 Cubs 18.8 53.5 27.8 0.408
2011 Cubs 24.9 52.1 23.0 0.432
2012 Cubs 16.9 56.3 26.9 0.430
2013 Cubs 14.1 54.5 31.4 0.347
2014 Cubs 16.0 54.9 29.1 0.438
2015 Cubs 23.4 52.9 23.6 0.375
2016 Yankees 16.1 52.7 31.2 0.433
2017 Yankees 21.8 49.0 29.2 0.454
2018 Marlins 15.1 47.1 37.8 0.388
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs

It’s not that Castro’s batted ball profile is all that different. One number that sticks out when diving deeper is that his HR/FB ratio is down to just 6.5% in 2018, below his career average of 8.5% and down significantly compared to the seasons he spent with the Yankees, in which he posted a 15% in 2016 and 16.2% in 2017, respectively. Park factors are undoubtedly in play there, where Yankee Stadium is much more friendly confines for hitters. There were years with the Cubs that Castro’s HR/FB ratio were similar or lower than his 2018 mark to date with the Marlins, but he was more fleet of foot then, so higher amounts of doubles and particularly triples helped him posted .400+ slugging percentages.

Continuing with the theme of change and development, Castro has long been knocked for his plate discipline, but the numbers suggest he’s improving in those areas in 2018 as he is on pace to post the best BB% of his nine-year big league career. The K% is still higher than one would hope, but with strikeouts becoming more and more acceptable in today’s game, his 19.3% isn’t a major red flag. He also is on pace to post third-best number in his career for percentages of pitches swung at outside the strike zone at 32.2%. Plate discipline will never be Castro’s calling card, but he’s been better in this campaign thus far.

While the advanced analytics scouting community remains split on the value of advanced defensive metrics, Castro has graded out as average at second base. He’s posted a 1 DRS and a -0.1 UZR. FanGraphs gives him a 1.2 grade on defense thus far in 2018, culminating in a 1.0 fWAR.

These numbers are important to note because well, obviously, Castro would be more valuable to a contending team if he’s playing a competent, average second base. This comes on the heels of a couple years in which he was regarded as a poor defender at the position in New York. It’s possible the average numbers are due to small sample size, or maybe the change is real, thanks to Perry Hill’s secret sauce.

There have been plays like this one...

And this one...

The biggest asset for Castro is that he can flat out hit. He’s continuously posted solid batting averages in his professional career, every step of the way. Whether or not a contender thinks he can help in a starting (or utility) role remains to be seen. However, he’s been a solid starter for the majority of his big league career and he had playoff experience in big games last season with the Yankees.

After breaking down all of what he’s done for the Marlins in 2018, it begs the question of what the team will be able to reel in if they do indeed trade Castro within the next month. While he is a player with some weaknesses, he’s very much a solid second baseman. To examine the market we really need to break down what teams are probably going to be buyers at the deadline, and if they could use a shot in the arm at the keystone.

Quickly looking at the standings and track records, let’s assume that the following teams will probably be buyers: Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Astros, Mariners, Braves, Brewers, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Dodgers. The next tier of teams who may be buyers include the Phillies, Giants, Cardinals, Angels and Athletics, to different extents.

Cross the Yankees and Cubs off the list from the get-go; both already made it clear that they considered Castro to be expendable. The Astros have some dude named Jose Altuve, so they’re also out. Atlanta has a stud in Ozzie Albies. The Mariners have been playing old friend Dee Gordon at second until Robinson Cano returns from suspension, so a move to Seattle seems unlikely. The Red Sox have been using Eduardo Núñez to fill in for the injured Dustin Pedroia, plus they just acquired veteran Steve Pearce, who has experience at the position. The Angels found their stop gap at the keystone in Ian Kinsler, the Phillies have the vastly underrated César Hernández, the Giants have the steady Joe Panik (even though he’s been a bit underwhelming to a certain extent around the injury in 2018), the Athletics have their own trade candidate at the position with Jed Lowrie, and the Diamondbacks have a plethora of infielders they are using to surround Paul Goldschmidt.

Trimming those teams off the list, deals would likely be pursued with the Indians, Brewers, Dodgers, and possibly the Cardinals, depending on what one thinks of Kolten Wong. It’s not impossible that a different team develops outside of those, but circumstances would need to change pretty dramatically between now and the deadline.

Next comes the issue of Castro’s rivals on the market. Scooter Gennett and Jed Lowrie have been more productive in 2018 for potential sellers, while Yangervis Solarte and Whit Merrifield come with more versatility. These alternatives would mean less leverage for the Fish in negotiating a deal.

Whatever the organization decides to do in the next month with Starlin, the fans should be content. He was shipped out of a role on a World Series contender to a team in a rebuilding phase and has embraced his role while in Miami. Personally, it wouldn’t upset me if Castro stayed until top prospect Isan Diaz is ready to take over the position.

But if management does pull the trigger on a move that unloads his contract and fetches a notable young player, we have some memories to hold onto...

Or my personal favorite...

What do you think? Do the Marlins ship Castro elsewhere, or will he finish out the 2018 campaign with Miami?