News broke this weekend about Starlin Castro signing an extension with the Cubs for seven years and $60 million, with an option for the eighth year. I was waiting for the details of the deal (specifically, yearly salaries) before posting about it, but then news came out that it would take a week or two for the contract to get finalized.
The AAV of Castro's extension is $8.57 million, which puts him below recent extensions signed by guys like Troy Tulowtizki, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, Erick Aybar, and Hanley Ramirez, and also lower than free agent contracts signed by Jose Reyes, Miguel Tejada, Rafael Furcal, Edgar Renteria, and Julio Lugo in recent years.
Since Castro debuted in 2010, he's been a top ten shortstop in baseball. He's tenth among all shortstops in baseball in fWAR with 7.8 since debuting (ahead of Jeter, Aybar, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Stephen Drew), and ninth in both wRC+ (at 99) and wOBA (.326), putting him ahead in both categories of Furcal, Rollins, Aybar, JJ Hardy, and Ian Desmond.
You could make the case that Castro is one of the best players in the league to make a long-term investment like this in, for two reasons. One, he plays shortstop, a prime position up the middle. Shortstops are a commodity in this league, especially this year when there are just eight players better than league average offensively. The average OPS for a shortstop this season is .686, the average wOBA is .301, and the average wRC+ is 86…even in a down year like 2012 has been for Castro, his .731 OPS, .312 wOBA, and 92 wRC+ crush the league average numbers for the position.
The second key aspect in Castro's extension is his age. When the extension kicks in for the 2013 season, Castro will be the whopping age of….23. This deal buys out his first four arbitration years, as well as three free agency years (and possibly a fourth). Instead of htiting free agency after his age 26 season, Castro won't hit it until after his age 29 season at the earliest. This works out well for both the team and the player in this case. The Cubs get a bargain deal on Castro in a time where the league's elite shortstops are getting nine figure deals that will take them well into their 30s. Hell, even comparing Castro's deal to Aybar's extension looks good. The Cubs are paying Castro less on average than Aybar, and Castro is six years younger than Aybar.
I can understand why some fans seem a little wary about a long-term deal for a player like Castro, who has been described as immature at times. But Castro is a potentially elite player up the middle who the Cubs have inked to a below market deal. For a club in rebuilding mode, he's the type of player you can build your franchise around, and with the length of the deal, he's going to be sticking around in 2-4 years when guys like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Albert Almora are getting close to the majors, as opposed to preparing for free agency and a huge payday.
Photo courtesy of Daylife.com