First Pitch: A Good Shortstop is Extremely Hard to Find

Earlier today a rumor came out that the Chicago Cubs were shopping everyone on their roster, with the exception of Jeff Samardzija. That immediately led to every Pirates fan (and probably every fan of every other team) asking what it would take to get Starlin Castro. That’s all moot, as Theo Epstein mentioned that Castro won’t be traded. It did provide the second example I saw today of how people don’t appreciate the value of a good shortstop.

I was asked if I would deal Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte for Castro. I was also asked if I would deal James McDonald straight up. My answer was yes in each case, although I’m not sure that would get the same response from the Cubs.

My answers drew some shock on Twitter, with several people questioning dealing Cole. It was pointed out that Cole has number one upside, and that the Pirates can’t go out and get one of those through any other means than the draft. That’s true, but the same is true for a shortstop like Castro. In fact, I’d say it’s harder to get a top shortstop than it is to get an ace pitcher. To get an idea of how good Castro is, let’s take a look at the leaderboards this year.

This year Castro is hitting for a .773 OPS. Out of 25 qualified shortstops, only eight have an OPS over .750. Only four others have an OPS over .700. Half of the qualified shortstops in the league have an OPS under .700.

Last year the offensive numbers were similar. Out of 27 shortstops with 400 plate appearances or better, nine had an OPS of .750 or better. Six more were over .700.

Defensively, Castro has an 11.6 UZR/150 this year. I don’t like focusing on single season UZR totals that much, as I feel it’s like batting average. A guy can hit .300 one year, but that doesn’t make him a .300 hitter. He becomes a .300 hitter when he does that consistently throughout his career. Castro hasn’t had the best defense in the past, so there’s a chance this could be a fluke.

Only 11 of the qualified shortstops this year have a UZR/150 over 0.4. Only six are above 10.0. Last year there were only four qualified shortstops with a UZR/150 over 10.0, and only eight others who were 1.0 or better.

Castro is only 22, has put up consistently strong offensive numbers, and is putting up good defense this year, although it’s an area where he’s struggled in the past. That’s not a bad thing though. Jose Reyes has struggled with his fielding throughout his career. That’s not the only similarity they share, as Castro has a career .767 OPS, while Reyes is at .777 for his career.

It’s extremely rare to have a shortstop who is good defensively, and good at the plate. Looking at the combined numbers from 2010 through 2012, there are only five shortstops who have put up a .700+ OPS and a 1.0 UZR/150 or better. Those shortstops are Troy Tulowitzki, J.J. Hardy, Stephen Drew, Alexei Ramirez, and Yunel Escobar.

Lately I’ve noticed that people don’t really know the value of the shortstop position, or realize how difficult the position is to fill. We hear the negative talk about Deven Marrero, who profiles as a plus defender who doesn’t hit as much. Considering that most starting shortstops only do one or the other, that’s not bad. As I pointed out in my draft rankings, I’d rather go for a guy like Albert Almora if he fell to the Pirates, but Marrero wouldn’t be the worst pick in the world. Marrero isn’t going to be a Troy Tulowitzki or a J.J. Hardy, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a valuable shortstop in the majors.

Then there’s Castro. I highlighted him above, but to get to those trade discussions. They’re useless since Castro won’t be traded, but the discussion of value is important. I don’t want to say that Castro’s 2012 defensive numbers are legit, but he can handle the position to the point where he’s not an embarrassment defensively. He combines that with good offense for a shortstop. If his 2012 defense does end up being legit, he’ll be one of the top shortstops in the game.

People didn’t like my idea of dealing Cole and Marte for Castro. But you have to consider a few things. First, Cole and Marte have a lot of upside, but they’re unproven. Castro is established as a very good shortstop already, and is young enough that he could make the jump to elite status. If you want an impact player like that, you’ve got to give up a top prospect. Second, if you don’t give up a top prospect, some other team will. Castro is the type of guy who would draw attention from almost every team. That’s a situation where you either pay up, or you don’t get him.

Again, that’s all useless discussion since Castro isn’t actually on the block. But the Castro discussion today, plus the constant Marrero discussion, reminded me of how out of touch people are when it comes to shortstops. The Pirates haven’t had a good shortstop for a while, and don’t have a standout prospect in the minors (unless you think Alen Hanson can stay at the position). That’s viewed harshly in Pittsburgh, but then when there is talk of pursuing a shortstop (drafting Marrero, big trade return for Castro), people balk at the high price.

The reality of the shortstop position is that it’s the hardest position to fill, and it’s extremely hard to get a player at the position who can hit AND play defense. And based on the reactions to potentially drafting Marrero, giving a big return for Castro, or just the overall reactions to the shortstop depth in the system, it seems that Pirates fans are missing that reality.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates were off today.

**Prospect Watch: Tony Sanchez is on a hot streak.

**My tiered rankings of the top 100 draft prospects.

**Jonathan Mayo has Max Fried going to the Pirates in his latest mock draft.

**Draft notes on Deven Marrero, Mike Zunino, and Joe DeCarlo.

**The Pirates released Nate McLouth.

**Clint Barmes is disappointed in his early season struggles.

Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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