By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — The match for a pitcher-shortstop deal is certainly obvious when you look at the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs as possible trading partners and gauge their respective strengths.READ MORE: Stimulus Check Update: When Might Your $1,400 Economic Relief Payment Arrive?
The Starlin Castro trade rumors have been floated around the Cubs for the last couple of seasons. And with viable young players like Addison Russell and Javier Baez establishing themselves as professional middle infielders, the likely move to bring in more pitching for a three-time All-Star shortstop seems plausible.
The Mets are a franchise that has arguably the deepest young starting pitching in baseball, with the likes of right-handers Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler (out for the season after Tommy John surgery) already reaching the majors and lefty Steven Matz performing well in Triple-A. Their need for young position player stars like Castro is real too. If New York wants to make the playoffs in 2015 and have more success down the line, it needs a quality young shortstop.
Yet any deal remains difficult to figure out for the Cubs. With a solid start to the season, they must decide if they are serious World Series contenders this year. Playing it one way, can you move a veteran shortstop and expect to go deep in the playoffs with a rookie, Russell or Baez, at the most important position other than pitcher on the field?
Conventional wisdom tells you the answer to that question is no, but logic could be used to present a case the other way. The argument would state that adding a dominant pitcher to Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel is far more important in getting to the promised land of baseball playoffs than a good-hitting shortstop.
Trading a great young shortstop is not a foreign idea for Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer. When the two executives were running the baseball department in Boston, they dealt all-world prospect Hanley Ramirez to the then-Florida Marlins for starter Josh Beckett in 2006. The results were great all the way around.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: 1,182 New Coronavirus Cases, 5 More Deaths; Lowest One-Day Death Toll Since September
The Marlins received an All-Star Star in Ramirez. Beckett was a dominant power pitcher on the 2007 Red Sox world championship club and gave Boston many years of solid work.
Basically, the Cubs might feel the 21-year-old Russell is ready to handle shortstop in the big leagues by the way he has quickly established himself at second base. The question is whether the player development plan for Russell would be pushing the envelope too far open at this point.
On the Mets’ side, even if they are ready to deal, there are economic issues that could easily kill any venture in the open market. Mets ownership lost tens of millions in the Bernie Maddoff scam. The franchise has been on shaky ground regarding cash flow for a number of years. Even if a seemingly modest contract of seven years and $60 million like Castro’s is looming, it could be a deal-breaker for New York.
Sources say New York is maxed out with a $100-million payroll. Injured third baseman David Wright is owed $107 million alone through 2020. This contract has turned into an anvil necktie of a deal for the Mets.
Off to a solid 23-18 start, the Mets also have pitchers Wheeler and Dillon Gee on the disabled list at this juncture, proving pitching depth can be a fleeting luxury in baseball.
A trade that would help both teams is be more complex than you think. That’s especially true if you look beyond the surface facts and numbers.MORE NEWS: Park District Spring Program Sign Up Starts Monday
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.