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Choosing Schwarber over Castellanos Would Be a Short-Sighted Move by Cubs

Kyle Schwarber has been linked to trade rumors involving the Chicago Cubs since the 2016 season, when the New York Yankees reportedly wanted him in exchange for one of their top relief pitchers. The Cubs ultimately dealt top prospect Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, which proved to be the winning move. Chapman solidified the back end up the bullpen during the playoff run, and Schwarber’s heroic return from an ACL tear to the designated hitter spot in Cleveland boosted the Cubs to their first World Series victory in 108 years.

Schwarber’s name is back in the hot stove rumors in 2019 after the Cubs front office indicated an interest in trading from the core to move salary and restock the farm system. There’s no argument that Schwarber is much more expendable than the other names on the trade block, Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant. Nicholas Castellanos, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers ahead of the 2019 trade deadline, is also interested in returning to the North Side in free agency. Trading Schwarber would free up a roster spot and prevent Jason Heyward from spending most of his starts in center field if Schwarber and Castellanos patrol the corners. However, as ownership group chairman Tom Ricketts is crying poor, signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering on the part of baseball operations president Theo Epstein.

As reported by Jesse Rogers, the financial constraints placed on the front office by ownership have already prevented the team from signing Eric Sogard, which means the outlook for the Cubs making any big moves on the free agency market is dim.

It’s clear if there is a decision to be made between Schwarber and Castellanos for one of the starting corner outfield spots, Schwarber would be the cheaper option since he is a second-year arbitration candidate who earned US$3.39 million in 2019 to Castellanos’s US$9.95 million. But is the cheaper option the best option to win baseball games and return to the postseason in 2020? Let’s take a look at the career numbers.

Name BA OBP SLG K% BB% HR% XBH% OPS+ wRC+ fWAR
Nicholas Castellanos .277 .326 .471 23.0 6.4 3.3 10.5 113 112 10.4
Kyle Schwarber .235 .339 .490 27.9 13.0 5.8 9.7 115 115 9.1

These two players have strikingly similar offensive production as measured by OPS+ and wRC+. The overall value provided in terms of WAR has also been very comparable (Castellanos has been in the league longer than Schwarber and thus has a higher fWAR total).

However, the major differences between these players arise in batting average and the Adam Dunn batting ratios (a/k/a the three true outcomes – strikeouts, walks and home runs). Castellanos hits well for average but walked at a rate below the MLB averages for his time as a major leaguer (6.4% compared to averages of 8.1%). If he walked at a higher rate, his OBP would climb to be even more comparable to Schwarber’s, although it is merely 13 points behind. Castellanos led MLB in doubles with 58 in 2019, but his home run numbers have suffered from playing most of his career at Comerica Park in Detroit.

As I have written at Cubs Insider, Schwarber, like Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge, is a member of the Adam Dunn Club for high achievement in the three true outcomes. He has not hit well for average, but makes up for this deficiency with a high walk rate and good power numbers (5.8 HR% rate and 110 career dingers, 38 in 2019). However, you can see that Castellanos, despite the slightly lower slugging percentage, still has a higher XBH%.

In my opinion, Castellanos’s ability to get hits, especially extra-base hits, is more valuable than Schwarber’s Dunn club membership. A double will always be better than a walk, because a double automatically results in a runner in scoring position. 81 games at Wrigley would also increase Big Stick Nick’s home run numbers. Castellanos hit 16 home runs in 51 games as a Cub in 2019 to 11 bombs in 100 games as a Tiger that year, for a career best season total of 27.

Trading Schwarber would achieve the Cubs’ stated goal of restocking the farm system without sacrificing a more important member of the core like Bryant or Contreras, while re-signing Castellanos would replace Schwarber’s lost production. If the Cubs ultimately decide to keep Schwarber rather than attempt to sign Castellanos for financial reasons, this would be a very short-sighted move. Although the two outfielders have provided very comparable production and value over the course of their careers, Castellanos has a more valuable skill set that will help the Cubs win more games and hopefully return to postseason contention. This skill set will of course come at a premium price which must be paid if the Northsiders are to remain competitive in the near term.

Featured Image: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com

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