Mo Money, Less Problems
This week the Cubs have announced a 7-year $60 million extension that buys out the first 3 years of Castro’s free agency. He will receive a 6M signing bonus, there’s also a club option for 16M for an 8th year (1M buyout, part of the 60M) and an MVP incentive that could bump the final 2 years up an additional 2M. In total Castro could earn 79M over the next 8 season. Here’s the yearly breakdown:
2013 (age 23): 5M
2014 (age 24): 5M
2015 (age 25): 6M
2016 (age 26): 7M
2017 (age 27): 9M
2018 (age 28): 10M
2019 (age 29): 11M (2M MVP clause if he wins or finishes top 5 in voting twice)
2020 (age 30): 16M (1M buyout & the 2M MVP clause if he wins or finishes top 5 in voting twice)
Here’s the many reasons why I love this deal. First, the team put a big chunk of the money at the beginning of the deal. Keeping Castro at basically 10M annually during his first 3 seasons he would have been a free agent is a savvy move. This will open up more money for the rest of the team, during seasons the Cubs will be competitive.
Second, the team is buying low. Castro is having his worst season statistically of his young career. This was a perfect time to lock him down long-term if you believe he’s just going to keep getting better. If Castro has a breakout season in the next year or two, he would be owed a lot more than what he just got. Even if Castro doesn’t improve but maintains a similar level of production the team still saved money. For example, look at Hunter Pence, a solid 3-4WAR player who also was a Super Two. He will make 35M during his 4 arbitration seasons. Including the signing bonus, Castro will make only 29M over his first four years.
Finally, the team now has control of Castro’s prime seasons (26-30). They will also be in an excellent position to extend Castro again before he hits free agency to buy out the rest of his productive years (31-34). If the team approaches Castro and offer another 8 year extension when he has 3 seasons left on his current deal, the Cubs could have Castro’s entire productive career at a discount, without having to pay big money for his decline seasons (35+). If the Cubs do not want Castro past his prime, they can trade him before the end of the 2019 season as his 10/5 rights won’t kick in unless the team accepts his option for 2020. This is a very shrewd move by a front office who looks to have learned from long term mistakes of the past.
Getting Better Despite the Numbers
It’s easy to look at Castro’s dip in batting average, abysmal OBP and errors then argue that Castro hasn’t improved at all this year and the Cubs are taking on a huge risk with this long term deal; however, in the two areas that concerned the Cubs the most, Castro has made marked improvements. Castro’s defense is much improved to the point I believe, and even more importantly, the Cubs believe, Castro is a long-term SS. His footwork and throwing look much better than his first two seasons and the advanced metrics show him as an above average defender (3.2 UZR). While he still makes his share of errors usually due to his concentration issues, he makes more difficult defensive plays that outweigh these negatives.
He’s also made some huge strides with his plate approach since late June. On June 24th, Castro was hitting above .300, however he was walking a measly 1.9% of the time in 312 PAs. In the 232 PAs since then, we’ve seen Castro’s average dip to .276 but his walk rate has increased to 9.9% of the time, his swing rate on pitches out of the zone dropped by nearly 10% and Castro has seen nearly 2 more pitches per plate appearance. That’s a remarkable improvement.
Add these improvements to his 3rd straight season with improving power numbers and stolen bases, a desire to continue getting better, take into account he’s only 22 and already has 3 seasons under his belt when players his age are usually at double-A, and it’s no wonder the Cubs see Castro as a player worth the 60 million dollar risk.