I saw this tweet everywhere yesterday in the aftermath of the Cubs complete self-immolation/hydrogen bombing of their season. I know why it happened, but first…
Took this 10min after game! I wish every player felt this way. Nick 💙being a Cub and 💙 playing @Wrigley he’s grateful 2 wear a Cub jersey. He takes nothing 4granted not 1play not 1pitch!! We need more players like Nick!! He plays the game the right way #SignNickNow #Believe2020 pic.twitter.com/eDBIA4kewn
— Believer 2020 (@richieogracia) September 22, 2019
It’s undeniable that Nicholas Castellanos brought a different energy to the Cubs. He also hit the shit out of the ball, which helped. Jason Heyward has brought a different energy to the Cubs for the four years he’s been here, but no one really cares because he doesn’t hit. It was easy to see with Castellanos of course, the way he bounced out of the box and in the dugout and out to the field.
And we all want and like that. It is a kids’ game after all. And this kind of picture at least makes us feel like the players are as upset and depressed as we are. Or that they feel playing in Wrigley Field and being a Cub is truly special. To some it is, to even fewer it matters more than getting paid the most they can for as long as they can. Which will assuredly be Castellanos’s aim come November, as it should be.
But cold, dead-eyed analysis should tell you that the Cubs have different priorities this winter, no matter what you think of the offense. First, let’s compare some numbers:
Player A since August 1st: .325/.370/.675 164 wRC+
Player B since August 1st: .292/.282/.636 156 wRC+
You’ve probably figured out the second player is Kyle Schwarber, and yet you will still hear a great many fans and media types saying it’s Schwarber who should be traded and Castellanos re-signed, even though Schwarber is younger and cheaper and keeps a great deal more financial flexibility. You might not think the last part matters, or more to the point don’t think it should matter given the financial might of both the Cubs and the Ricketts family. And I would agree with you, except it’s going to anyway, and we should probably deal with reality. Though that’s never really been our strong-suit around here, which is why we still think Teuvo Teravainen is a Hawk.
You might also think that it doesn’t have to be an either-or choice between Castellanos and Schwarber, but it kind of does, and it kind of has to do with Jason Heyward. We’ll circle back to this.
What you have to decide is whether you think Castellanos, or Schwarber, is the player they showed the last two months or more the player they’ve been for years. Over the season, Castellanos has put together a 124 wRC+, which mirrors his 130 of last year. Here in his prime, that’s probably just about what he is? 120-125? We can’t expect this kind of binge every year. This will end up being Schwarber’s best season since his rookie campaign, and I would wager that’s what he will be going forward as well, as his numbers don’t have quite the inflation to them that Castellanos’s does.
But again, financial considerations come into this. You may think the Cubs have Hamels, Zobrist, and Morrow coming off the books for a cool $45M or so in flexibility. Doesn’t work that way though, as most of Zobrist’s money has been swallowed up by Kimbrel’s contract. And there are raises coming. Willson Contreras is probably getting a $3M-$5M raise from this year. Anthony Rizzo gets a $3M one. Kris Bryant is in line for another $3M or more than he got this year. Same goes for Javier Baez. Oh, and Schwarber too. Kyle Hendricks’s salary for sure bumps up $5M with his extension. Right there, that’s $20M gone, conservatively.
Castellanos is in line for, and this is a guess, 3/$54M contract or thereabouts. Given his age, maybe he gets four or five years. Give him that, and your flexibility is severely limited, even with a rise in the luxury tax threshold.
And quite simply, the Cubs have greater needs, even if the offense has caused you to dent your own skull. Right now the rotation for 2020 is Hendricks, Darvish, Lester, Q, and some mishmash of Chatwood or 80 innings of Alzolay or whatever’s behind door #3. Both Chatwood and Alzolay, given the amount of work he can provide, are almost certainly better used as multi-inning pieces out of the pen. Even if you slot Chatwood into that rotation, with the way Q and Lester have finished the season, you really think you’re going somewhere with that? Hamels is only coming back if he takes half of what he just got or less and for one year, and I don’t see that happening.
The free agent class blows, and that would still be the case if Stephen Strasburg opts out and the Cubs by some miracle want to give him more than the $25M and four years he’s owed. Still, there are improvements to be made.
Same goes for the pen, though that really shouldn’t be nearly as expensive.
But the most important factor is you simply can’t go a full season with Heyward in center between Castellanos and Schwarber and expect him not to simply get Thanos’d. A league average offensive hitting season out of Heyward is fine, just barely, when he’s giving you plus defense in right. When he gives you that at the plate and substandard defense in center–which is what he’s done–you have a black hole on your roster. And Heyward isn’t going anywhere. At least, not unless the Cubs front office I Dream Of Genie’s it.
Of the top 10 teams in fly-ball efficiency (fly balls turned into outs) six are playoff teams. Of the bottom 10, only Tampa is there and they hardly ever give up fly balls anyway. The Cubs are middling in that department and in the bottom-10 when it comes to line-drive efficiency.
Now maybe the calculous changes if the NL miraculously adopts the DH for 2020 (it won’t). Or maybe someone just takes Heyward away because and you can plug in a genuine centerfielder who won’t go John Henry having to pinball between Schwarber and Castellanos. But their defense is not something they can ignore, given the parameters they have.
It hurts to say. Nick has been a delight, and there’s nothing more he could do, with the injuries to basically everyone else. But the Cubs need to get back to catching everything and also limiting the amount of things they need to catch. Castellanos doesn’t really help with either of those.