9:41 PM CST, November 8, 2012
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Go ahead, Theo Epstein.
Make that splash your fans have been waiting for since you were hired. Trade Starlin Castro for Justin Upton.
Javier Baez has your back.
At 22, Castro is far from a polished product. But he's also probably the best young shortstop in baseball. Name someone better. I tried, and can't.
That's good news for the Cubs. Even better is that Baez, 20 next month, it about to push Castro hard.
"He is going to be a star,'' a longtime baseball executive said Thursday. "His BP stood out in the (Arizona Fall League). His bat speed is extraordinary. I can see him getting better. He will be a far more impactful player than Castro.''
While Castro recently signed a seven-year, $60 million contract, he is not exempt from trade rumors. There are only a few whispers now, but you soon may hear how the Cubs are as good of a fit with the Diamondbacks for Upton as the Rangers are.
The Diamondbacks have targeted Texas as a possible place to move the 25-year-old right fielder, figuring it can land an impact shortstop in Elvis Andrus or 19-year-old Jurickson Profar while giving the Rangers a middle-of-the-order bat to replace Josh Hamilton. But Rangers sources say they aren't interested in dealing Andrus or Profar at this point, in part because they still think they can re-sign Hamilton.
Castro, signed through 2019, when his salary will reach $11 million - with an option for '20 at $16 million - would have much more trade value than Andrus and maybe as much as Profar. But do the Cubs want Upton?
It doesn't appear they are aggressively pursuing him, but why not? He's not one of those "post-prime'' players Epstein vows to avoid — and he's signed for three years. His upside, like that of Baez, remains near the top of the charts according to scouts, many of whom still see him as a potential 40-homer, high-average hitter.
He has gone stale in Arizona and manager Kirk Gibson seems to want him gone. It's an opportunity for someone, and Epstein should see him as a player who could shorten the Cubs' rebuilding period and still be around to play alongside Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Baez.
As far as the timing on the Cubs' end, they could take him for a test drive in 2013 and then either give him a huge extension — locking him up through 2019 and beyond — or trade him for pitching. They would need a place-holder at shortstop while Baez finishes the climb from high-A Daytona, but that's a minor detail and there is no shortage of options.
There aren't many players like Baez.
He has plenty to learn — like improving his plate discipline and answering questions about his lateral range — but he hit four homers and drove in 16 in the 14 AFL games he played before fracturing the tip of his left thumb. Oh, and he had a steal of home, breaking for the plate when the pitcher threw to first base.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer says he has been impressed with Baez's defense, and anyone who has seen him raves about his potential as a hitter. The executive I quoted earlier said he has been watching him since 2009, when he was a sophomore at Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville, Fla., and has seen him every year since.
The more people see Baez, the more they like him. That hasn't been the case with Upton.
One executive says he's "a nice guy to take a risk on, but he hasn't displayed consistency.'' He says he could be Matt Kemp but doesn't have the "same focus and passion'' as the Dodgers' superstar.
Maybe he's not the right guy for the Cubs. Maybe they should hold onto their ammunition until someone even better comes onto the market. Or maybe they should just plan to play Castro and Baez next to each other for a decade, one at shortstop, the other at third base.
It's always nice to have options, and the combination of Baez and Castro gives the Cubs some very attractive ones.
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