Ryan Braun Contract a Good Model for Starlin Castro with Chicago Cubs

Posted on April 25, 2011

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Ryan Braun, a three-time All-Star for the Milwaukee Brewers already, signed a five-year, $105-million contract extension with the Brewers last week. Starlin Castro is a long way from earning a similar deal with the Chicago Cubs. But Castro has been a big-leaguer for nearly a year now, and the Cubs should really consider an extension for their star shortstop in the mold of one Braun signed three years ago.

On May 15, 2008, Braun had accrued less than a year of big-league service time. Yet, by virtue of a torrid rookie season in which he launched 34 home runs without taking even 500 turns at bat, he established himself as one of the premier young players in the game. Clamoring to lock him up long-term, Milwaukee gave him an eight-year extension worth just over $45 million. It remains the largest sum ever committed to a player with less than a year of big-league service time of which to boast.

Castro breezed by one year of service time on April 22, fifteen days shy of the anniversary of his astounding six-RBI debut in Cincinnati. No similar deal was struck before that deadline, and by all indications, nothing is in the works, either.

However, a deal of similar proportion would make a ton of sense for Chicago. Castro is actually three years younger than was Braun when the latter signed his deal, and unlike Braun, Castro provides value with his glove, making the durability of his offensive skills over the life of the deal a less crucial question.

If the Cubs could lock up Castro to a deal structured the same way Braun’s was, they would have cost certainty and a bargain value on a shortstop whose downside is roughly 2.0 WAR per season. The advantage is huge, and Castro would be a rich man overnight.

There are a few key drawbacks to consider:

  1. Castro may not have much interest. Justin Upton, a more comparable player by both age and accomplishment to Castro, waited until the end of his breakout age-21 campaign to broker a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his superior leverage led to a six-year, $51.25-million payday.
  2. Castro still has chinks in his armor both offensively and defensively. While his athleticism and raw contact ability give him a sky-high ceiling, he walks very rarely, has little power so far and makes mistakes at shortstop on a semi-weekly basis.
  3. Castro has nearly injured himself on a would-be hustle double and an infield single on which he slid head-first into first base, and that covers only this weekend. His all-out style may lead to increased injury risk.
Still and all, GM Jim Hendry has to get the ear of Castro’s representation and at least explore a deal. Eventually, the Cubs will need to make major external investments if they want to win in 2012 or 2013, and Castro will be a constant source of uncertain cost until he signs a deal that covers his pre-arbitration and arb-eligible years.
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