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Castillo redux

In the context of sorting out the third-base problem, Joe Christenson makes an interesting point in his baseball insider column today. Contrary to what we thought about Luis Castillo having a "career year" earlier in the season, he ranks second to last in OPS (.681) among AL second basemen.

Some continue to sing his praises, suggesting that he deserves all-Star consideration (see the recent poll). Others suggest that we sign him back for 2008 and beyond. In today's column, Charlie Walters had this to say:

"Although it seems unlikely the Twins financially can justify re-signing Luis Castillo, 30, the free agency-eligible second baseman with a .303 batting average said he wants to stay in Minnesota. 'This is a good team. I like it here,' he said."

It seems silly to even consider him an all-star considering his low OPS. While his fielding is above average, it cannot make up for the difference between his OPS and a good second baseman's, say Brian Roberts (.866). And when a 31-year old with chronic leg problems hits only a couple of ticks above replacement level, the notion of paying market rates for him is even sillier. The real question to me is, can we trade him? But that can wait until I solve a couple of puzzles.

So how does a player hit .303 but rank second to last in OPS? Well he almost never walks anymore (20 BBs in 289 PAs), which accounts for his relatively low OBP (.348) considering his relatively high average. But that only tells a corner of the story. Much has been made of his major-league lead in infield base hits. The downside of that is almost no power. With a .335 SLG and only 7 doubles, one triple and no home runs, he is the weakest hitting second baseman in the league.

It all adds up to a very empty batting average. And with only 7 stolen bases in 10 attempts, it would seem he's not a very good lead-off hitter after all. Contrast that to Jason Bartlett, who has the same OBP as Castillo, 10 2Bs, two HRs, 16 SBs in 16 attempts and is among the league leaders in line drive percentage. At this stage, he's a better option to lead off. Not that that's saying much. He's a good little number 2 hitter at the moment, especially if you throw out his first 21 at bats this year. But he is not the ideal lead-off hitter either.

Still, it's comforting to know that, if Castillo is traded, the Twins will still have an option at lead-off with some major league experience. But do they have an adequate candidate at second?

The candidates to replace Castillo include Nick Punto (with his .579 OPS) and two minor leaguers, Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert. We could only use Punto at second if the Twins acquire a third baseman (as expected). And he's mired in the worst slump of his career; so many prefer that he just assumes the utility role when the Twins do get a real third baseman. We saw Casilla earlier in the year, and, while extremely talented, he's very raw. Tolbert too has a lot to learn, but he's hitting very well at Rochester (.337/.397/.490).

I doubt Gardy will welcome a trade of Castillo unless he's comfortable with the replacement. And that likely means Punto and his .579 OPS. But it is one way to clear some payroll to make room for a third baseman. Let's say Mike Lowell becomes available (not likely, but for the sake of argument, humor me), it would cost the Twins the prorated portion of $9 million this year. If the Twins send Silva to the Red Sox for Lowell, and manage to unload Castillo to a team that can afford him, they can fit Lowell's salary into their payroll.

I don't like the odds of a Castillo trade, but the Twins should not be considering resigning him in any event. The likely outcome is the Twins allow him to leave for free agency and get draft compensation for him. And the way that is structured, if he plays like this the rest of the year, that's a first rounder and a sandwich pick. That's probably better than they can get either by trading him before the deadline or, much worse, resigning him long term.