The easiest offseason decision in all of baseball.
There is no such thing as “definitely.” All future possibilities exist on a spectrum ranging from “highly likely” to “highly unlikely.” The only certainty is that there are no certainties.
Castro is, in one sense, the worst player in baseball this year. With -0.7 fWAR, he ranks dead last among all qualified position players tied with Rougned Odor. (A handful of unqualified players are lower, but you get the idea.) His contract includes a team option for $16 million with a $1 million buyout.
Throwing gas on the fire, Castro is employed by the Marlins— the worst team in the NL and the most hopeless, directionless organization in MLB. They’re also one of the most notoriously frugal teams, ranking 28th in payroll.
(Note- this article was written before yesterday’s games were played. Usually, that doesn’t change things very much, but the Marlins obliterated the Brewers, 16-0. Starlin Castro went 2-5 with a home run. One game matters little in terms of future planning, but such a lopsided result does impact Castro’s and Maimi’s stats. Please adjust accordingly.)
This phenomenal confluence of suckiness is spectacular enough, but the contract option actually forces team management to dwell on this flaming garbage pile of a season. Derek Jeter and company can’t simply move on and block 2019 from memory without officially making a decision on Castro’s option. They’ll have to make a press announcement:
After carefully weighing our options, the Marlins have decided to move on from Starlin Castro. He adds no on-field value to a major league team whatsoever at this point in his career. Making matters worse, we couldn’t afford to pay him if we wanted to. Hell, we had to search the couch cushions just to pay his buyout!
There can be no avoidance. The Marlins must come to terms with their sorry state of affairs. The only way out is if, miraculously and preposterously, they actually accept his option. For that to happen, here’s what needs to transpire between now and October:
Starlin Castro becomes Alex Bregman
There are estimates around the baseball Internet abut how much a win is worth. It’s really hard to pin down, and not terribly accurate. There are many more factors than just WAR that determine player value, such as age, service time, position scarcity, market fluctuations, etc.
Castro’s team option is essentially a one year, $15 million contract. Last offseason, Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley signed identical three year, $45 million deals. Over the past three years, they averaged 2.7 and 2.4 fWAR, respectively.
The market for infielders wasn’t as player friendly. Jed Lowrie (three years, $30 million), Daniel Murphy (two years, $20 million), and D.J. LeMahieu (two years, $18 million) might be better comps for Castro.
What this means for Castro is, A) a 2.5 win player is worth about $15 million per year, but B) starting caliber infielders are worth about $10 million per year. For a second baseman such as him to fetch $15 million, he needs to be considerably above average. Given that the Marlins only have two players making that much money in 2019, (Martín Prado and Wei-Yin Chen) (stop laughing) Castro needs to be that much better. Let’s estimate that he needs a four-win season to have his option picked up.
All of this forgets that Castro is presently awful. Given his current -0.7 fWAR, he needs about 4.7 fWAR over the remaining four months of the season. That means he needs to become the caliber of a full season 7.3 fWAR player instantaneously.
Alex Bregman is useful benchmark here. He was worth 7.6 fWAR is 2018. With 2.7 so far this year, he’s on pace for 7.2. If Castro and Bregman body-swapped at this very moment, Starlex Brastro might be good enough to get paid next year. Maybe.
The Marlins become the Rays
Castro is only half of the problem. The Marlins are on pace to lose more than 100 games. Collectively, they’re batting .239/.300/.352 with a 77 wRC+ as a team, not including pitchers! They’re averaging just 0.75 home runs per game, while the rest of the league averages 1.36. They’ve scored 12 fewer runs than any other team in MLB.
Sometimes, a team is terrible, but with a spark of hope. Usually, that comes from the farm system. No such hope exists in Miami. FanGraphs recently updated their farm system rankings, placing the Marlins directly in the middle. Considering that they traded Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and J.T. Realmuto over the past two winters, a mid-tier farm system is a catastrophe. Many of the prospects they received for the outfielders flopped like a midweek open mic standup comic.
To consider investing $15 million on Alex Bregman disguised as Starlin Castro, the Marlins need to believe they can win in 2020. This requires a promising team right now, as well as a highly regarded farm system.
The Tampa Bay Rays have an admirable combination of present and future value. They look highly likely to make the playoffs this year, and FanGraphs ranked their farm system second best in baseball. So while Castro swaps with Bregman, the rest of the Marlins need to trade places with the Rays, including minor league affiliates.
Castro changes his name to Conine?
Even if all this magically transpires, there’s no getting around the tightfisted Marlins ownership. Unless they trade him, there’s simply no way the Marlins would commit $15 million additional dollars of US currency just to win a few baseball games. The team has shown little interest in spending money to improve the on-field product, repeatedly alienating their fan base.
Unless Castro suddenly becomes a beloved franchise icon, there’s no way he’s a Marlin in 2020. It turns out that some things are definite after all.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983