9:01 AM CDT, August 29, 2012
From no-trade clauses to eminently tradable contracts.
That’s part of Theo Epstein’s massive remaking of the Cubs: retaining talent while also retaining the flexibility to deal that same talent.
Witness Starlin Castro’s new deal. It covers seven years for $60 million with a club option in 2020 for $16 million or a $1 million buyout.
Without a blasted no-trade clause, Castro’s deal becomes a long-term commitment that the Cubs ship elsewhere in no time flat. The Cubs also benefit by buying up arbitration and some early free-agent years as they build toward Epstein’s “sustained success.’’
The contract represents a fair deal for a 22-year-old shortstop, as well, because it guarantees financial security, takes the edge off a bad season, and still gives him the chance to cash in again when he theoretically is at the peak of his prime years.
Castro still has issues with discipline at the plate and in the field, but for now he joins Anthony Rizzo as the centerpieces for a remade team and philosophy.
Or Castro and his reasonable contract could be dealt.
In theory, the Cubs could spend the next three seasons coaching Castro and gauging his development. If they determine Castro will never walk and never learn to work deep pitch counts the way Epstein wants from every hitter in the organization, then the Cubs can deal him while having spent just $16 million total through 2015.
Remember, Epstein dealt Nomar Garciaparra out of Boston, so believe the possibility that he'd trade Castro.
But it might be the team and not Castro. Let’s say the Cubs are going nowhere in 2018. That would mean Epstein has extended the Cubs’ philosophy of sustained failure to 110 years. Congratulations. But anyway, Castro likely would be more valuable to a contending team and the Cubs could save $23 million over the last two guaranteed seasons while trying to rebuild the rebuild with young arms. This is a recording. But still, it’s what a team does when it isn’t asphyxiated by no-trade clauses.
See the Ryan Dempster mess for details. The Cubs had a deal based on what Dempster approved, but then Dempster killed that deal. The Cubs were forced to go another way and settle for less talent and breed greater distrust of a guy who gives a team its word.
Or you can see the Alfonso Soriano deal for details. Castro’s team option in 2020 is still $2 million less than Soriano’s last guaranteed season that comes in 2014. The mind boggles.
Soriano’s deal remains Exhibit A for what not to do, or at least for what Epstein won’t do now or in the near future. No Jim Hendry playbook for him. Hendry seemed to give everyone a no-trade clause, although Soriano’s $136 million deal was a de facto no-trade clause.
And another thing: Don’t minimize the arbitration years the Cubs bought out. They can be costly for that one season and only that one season. They also set the floor for the next arbitration deal that, again, is costly for that one season and only that one season.
Matt Garza, for instance, cost the Cubs about $10 million this season. Good luck trying to amortize your view of Garza as a Cub. He was expected to get about $15 million if he went to arbitration this offseason. But now he might only get $12 million because he suffered an arm injury and has been shut down.
See what I mean? That’s a lot of money for a guess. Arbitration is largely bad and stupid for teams. The Cubs seem forced to trade Garza and his questions instead of paying a lot of money for a pitcher who might be good on a team that certainly will be bad again.
When you’re rebuilding from the bottom up -- even if you haven’t found the bottom yet -- it’s about rounding up all the talent you can evaluate and retain the flexibility to flip it for something better.
We’ll see how firm Epstein stands in free-agency when players have the leverage to demand no-trade clauses, but the Castro deal is a good start.
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