Kaplan: Trading Castro should be on the table

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Kaplan: Trading Castro should be on the table

With the First-Year Player Draft in Major League Baseball scheduled for Monday, the Chicago Cubs have a chance to add impact players to a fairly weak farm system as they own four of the first 67 selections. The draft is not considered exceptionally strong in position players, but pitching does have solid depth throughout the draft and the Cubs are most definitely in the market for power arms.

With Jason McLeod now in charge of the Cubs scouting department and Tim Wilken -- one of the best evaluators in the game -- crisscrossing the country to see all of the top players, the Cubs have a chance to restock a system that is woefully short on impact players who can play a prominent role in the core of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyers rebuilding plan.

However, while the draft is the lifeblood of the system, the Cubs also have an opportunity to turn a down 2012 season at the major-league level into a major component of their organizational overhaul.

That opportunity will take tremendous guts to execute because it will require completely gutting the major league team of most anything of value. That includes star shortstop Starlin Castro, who is one of the better young hitters in the game, but is also a question mark defensively and does not have a plate approach that is in line with Epsteins vision for how the game should be played.

What I am in favor of is a systematic dismantling of the big-league team that trades anything of value for players that embrace the EpsteinHoyer philosophy and replacing those parts with young prospects that the Cubs can build with and grow with.

Will it upset the fan base to trade Starlin Castro? Absolutely. However, that doesnt mean it is the wrong decision if it makes you a better team down the road. After all, isnt that what the Cubs are trying to build towards?

Castro is a wonderfully talented player who should be one of the games best hitters for the next 15 years. He is a solid athlete and he will probably be a perennial all-star for the next decade or more. And that is why the Cubs must do all they can to see what the market will bring for a player of his abilities.

Why not see if a contender will overpay to add his bat? What about a team that is in serious need of a star to excite their fan base? One has to believe that Castro would summon quite a haul if he were traded and that haul could be far more valuable to the Cubs than what he currently brings to a team going nowhere in 2012.

The same goes for Matt Garza, who is a rare commodity in the game. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and he is not saddled with a long term contract that limits who can afford him. The Cubs control his rights for another full season and he could be the piece that a contender needs to add to their rotation to put them over the top.

Yes, the Cubs do need pitching and Garza is a fine piece to a rotation. But what could the Cubs add in the right deal to the right team? They must explore all of their options to see what they can get back in a trade.

Ryan Dempster is another attractive trade piece because he is a solid starter and he has no long-term contract to deal with. He is a free agent after this season, so a contender can acquire him and then decide if he is worth the investment going forward. He is also one of the best clubhouse guys in the game so he can make an impact on a contender in a variety of ways which increases his trade value.

Other pieces that the Cubs have that could interest a contender include Jeff Baker whose versatility makes him highly valuable to a contending team. He can play first, second, third or the corner outfield spots and he is a solid pinch hitter and also has a little bit of power in his bat.

What about Geovany Soto, who is currently rehabbing an injured knee but is expected back on the roster soon? There are a number of teams that need catching help and if the Cubs are willing to pay some of his remaining salary, there should be some teams willing to trade for him.

Is Soto the Cubs catcher of the future? Absolutely not. He is questionable at calling a game and his offense is mediocre at best. The fact that the Cubs are paying him 4.3 million speaks to how ridiculous salaries are in the game.

I would much rather see Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger share the catching duties every day for the rest of the season so that the organization knows what they have for the future. If one of them can assume the role of starter, then that is one less problem area that the Cubs need to address. If not, then it is better to find out now. Soto, though, could net something in a trade as some contenders, such as the Washington Nationals that are dealing with injuries and could use a veteran presence for the rest of the season.

There should be no untouchables on this roster and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should explore every possible deal that moves veterans who will not be a part of the future and moves salary off of the books so that the Cubs have some flexibility in the free agent market next winter. That means trading some popular names who the fanbase likes. But Epstein and Hoyer cannot worry about upsetting the fan base and hanging on to players who are not in their long term plans.

So who would I keep that is on the major league roster?

Jeff Samardzija is the Cubs biggest surprise of the season as he has shown that he can be a major part of the rotation for a long time to come. He is a power pitcher who has transformed himself from thrower to a pitcher who really seems to understand what it takes to be a consistent winner in the big leagues. He is also a solid guy who is well liked in the clubhouse and he should be a fixture on the North Side for the next several years. Beyond that, there is nothing else left that I wouldnt trade in the right deal.

This season has to be about two things and that is clearing out players who dont figure to be a part of the future and finding out exactly what is on the roster that can fill a need long term. Thats it.

The 2012 Chicago Cubs have no chance of winning consistently and no chance of turning around a rough start to their season.

But none of that matters. All that does matter is using this season as a lab experiment to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and the big league club. Anything other than that is a waste of a season that offers that opportunity. And these types of opportunities dont come along very often.

All in all, there is not much on the current roster that looks like it will be a lock to be here when the rebuild turns from also-ran to contender status in 2014 or 2015. That means the Cubs front office has to get as much as they can for just about anyone on the roster despite how painful it may be in the short term to the fan base and ultimately attendance and perception.

Epstein has been given a rare opportunity in sports by having an owner who is committed to the long-term plan and is willing to also show the patience to let it play out. He and Jed Hoyer cannot squander this opportunity no matter how loud the protestations get from the fans and the media.

In the end, if they build a consistent run of high-level success, the pains of 2012-14 will be a distant memory. And that is all that matters.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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