With each passing day, the reality that everyone had already accepted digs in a bit deeper: the Chicago Cubs are going to be utterly irrelevant this season. Like every year, they'll provide some good times in Wrigleyville for all, but that happens regardless of whether the team wins, and the team simply isn't going to win a lot in 2012.
What this should really mean, though, is that it's time to roll out the young guys. The problem with the Cubs is that they don't exactly have many young players worth playing. Starlin Castro is in there and Darwin Barney is getting hacks, but did you just realize that I referenced Darwin Barney as if he was some sort of long-term building block? That's a losing formula.
And in the a spot where the Cubs do have some admittedly intriguing young players, one of the team's most established veterans is tooling his trade. Don't worry, Joe Mather, you're safe in center field; for all intents and purposes, the Cubs seem to have some very real reasons for letting Brett Jackson stay in Triple-A for the time being.
Castillo isn't a big-time prospect by any means. He didn't get a big signing bonus upon joining the Cubs organization and he wasn't ranked on top-100 lists like Jackson. He signed his first pro deal at 17 and he made his pro debut at 19, but he's 25 now and he's appeared in just 11 MLB games. He's always been a prospect, but never a great prospect, the kind of guy that'd get drafted in the third round if this was the NFL. (Courtesy reference to today's NFL draft. Go sports!!!!!!)
This spring, he was set up to compete against Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo for the gig backing up Soto. Castillo didn't have the spring that he wanted to have and ended up beginning this season in Triple-A after Clevenger won the role. It'll be his third year with the Iowa Cubs (I doubt he loves Des Moines).
The problem with this whole set-up, though, is that Castillo doesn't need to be in Triple-A anymore. Not after hitting .276/.342/.511 in 146 games at that level over the past three years, showing legitimate power and enough batting eye to tap into it at the big league level.
This is a legitimate big league catcher, folks.
And as much as I like Soto, he's no longer the kind of player that you'd consider a building block after establishing a consistent level of inconsistency. At one point, it almost looked like he'd turn into a legitimate All-Star performer, almost on the level of someone like Brian McCann, but that simply hasn't happened for a variety of reasons. You block Castillo for that kind of player; Soto isn't it.
Right now, Soto's numbers look terrible. He needs to get them up before the Cubs can seriously consider trading him without essentially dumping him at his lowest value. But at his best, he's been an All-Star at a premium position, and even when he's been off, he's a solid-average player that can give you 105-130 good games annually. Plus, he's only 29.
Those numbers will go up eventually. And when they do, interest will be there, because in a league where Miguel Olivo keeps getting starting gigs, Geovany Soto looks like a pretty fancy proposition. This is a unique opportunity where the Cubs can move a player that has actual trade value while filling his spot with a cheaper, younger player that could turn out to be pretty damn good.
Soto is a good player, and the Cubs are going to need good players to win. But they're also going to need cheap players, plus they're going to need players that will be around in 2014 and beyond. Soto is a free agent after next season, at which point he'll presumably command a pretty sizable contract, and he hasn't been especially good since 2010.
In Castillo, the Cubs have someone that could potentially be all three of those things: good, cheap, and around for the long haul. Yeah, he's already 25 and that means his decline should technically begin just a few years from now. But if the Cubs can start to contend within a couple years, he'll be peaking right at the same time as the team does.
Right now, the most important thing for Theo Epstein and company is to figure out which current players they can actually build around. Soto definitely isn't one of them, but Castillo might be. Isn't that enough to at least consider shipping out the veteran?
FUNber of the Day: 64.7%. That's the percentage of times that White Sox third baseman Brent Morel has scored this season after getting on times. Of the 17 times that Morel has been on base this year, he's scored on 11 of them. And of those 17 times on base, only 10 of them were hits (three walks, four times by error).