There has been a lot of speculation recently that the trade to acquire catcher Martín Maldonado is because the Cubs are currently shopping Victor Caratini. If the Cubs follow through with this, the lineup would probably take a step back depending on whom they acquire in return. More importantly, trading Caratini amplifies their position player depth issues, which has been the biggest weakness of the Cubs all season. Furthermore, if you take a detailed look behind the numbers, Caratini is without a doubt one of the best hitters in the lineup. The casual fan may not recognize this because he doesn’t play every day and isn’t a household name who helped the Cubs win the 2016 World Series.
According to FanGraphs, Caratini has the sixth-highest wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created adjusted for era and venue) on the team at 112 (100 is average). wRC+ is an advanced analytic that is used to evaluate a player’s offensive production. Fans recognize how exceptional Javier Baez and Jason Heyward have been offensively this season, as each of them has a wRC+ of 115 and 113. At 112, this indicates that Caratini is right behind both of them in terms of offensive production. Additionally, Caratini has the sixth-highest OPS in the lineup, further proving his offensive value. It’s not reasonable to compare his number of home runs, RBIs, or extra-base hits to the rest of the lineup, as Caratini only has 116 plate appearances, which is the eleventh-highest on the team. The bottom line is that trading Caratini is trading away a major piece of the lineup, which is not something a team does if it is trying to win a World Series right now.
I understand the logic behind trading Caratini now due to the ‘sell high’ theory. Caratini is currently performing at the highest level of his career, and the Cubs would get the most in return out of him right now than they probably ever could in the future. Also, Caratini has five years of control with his contract, which increases his value on the trade market even more. It’s also tough to have two catchers who are in the top six on the roster in offensive production. I contend that a better solution to this issue is playing Contreras elsewhere on the diamond more often, which I outlined in an article published on Tuesday. This would allow Caratini more at-bats, which absolutely needs to happen in the second half of the season. While some fans may think trading Caratini is the better alternative to this issue, Caratini is simply too important to this lineup to ship off right now.
Another reason you cannot trade Caratini is the fact that the Cubs would need to bundle prospects in the deal to receive somebody in return that enhances the MLB roster. Dealing Caratini alone does not warrant a player that is performing well enough to make the deal worthwhile for the Cubs due to them being in ‘win now’ mode. And the reality of the Cubs’ farm system is that it is not very good right now, with the exception of a few players. This is the reason why I am against trading prospects given the Cubs’ current situation. The farm system desperately needs to be rebuilt over the next three seasons. The Cubs cannot keep shipping off every worthwhile prospect they have, which is exactly what they’ve done since 2016.
After the 2021 season, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell are all unrestricted Free Agents (UFA). With the exception of Contreras, who is a UFA in 2022, that’s the entire core of the Cubs’ roster. When the 2021 offseason is here, the Cubs need to have prospects coming up ready to perform in the big leagues so they have options on whom of the core they want to pay and who to let walk. It will be impossible to retain every one of those UFAs. Another season of dealing prospects does not leave them with any options when this pivotal decision comes in three years. Nico Hoerner, the number one prospect in the Cubs organization, basically needs to be untouchable at this point. While he may not get the chance this season, it's very possible he starts at second base on opening day next year. With how much of an issue second base has been this year, the Cubs cannot afford to casually ship him off like they have done in prior seasons with intriguing prospects. I think the front office knows this, which is why they elected to ship off Montgomery, rather than prospects, for Maldonado.
An argument could be made to deal Caratini for a package of prospects to stimulate the farm system rebuild, but doing that makes the MLB roster worse right in the middle of their World Series window. That’s a tough sell. On top of that, given Contreras’ health concerns, having three catchers is a smart move because you can’t just assume he’s going to be 100% healthy once he comes off the ten-day IL. Lastly, the biggest weakness the Cubs have had this year is a lack of position player depth. If the trade deadline is supposed to be about addressing weaknesses, how can you justify trading the best backup position player you have? You can’t, and trading Caratini would almost assuredly hurt the Cubs’ World Series chances this year.
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