The Cubs find themselves in relatively new territory as the calendar heads toward June.
Five games above .500, the North Siders would earn a wild card berth if the playoffs started today.
There are still some areas that need improvement, though, like the back-end of the rotation, left field and the bullpen — the mere mention of which now causes Cubs fans to wince.
The biggest trade chip on the roster right now may be shortstop Starlin Castro, who is one of many prized infielders in an organization that also possesses Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez.
One option that is gaining steam is to shift Bryant from third base to left field and re-introduce Baez to the infield. Baez is batting .296 at Triple-A Iowa this season and may have turned the corner with his offense. Last year he struck out 95 times in 213 at-bats after his promotion to the majors.
Will Cubs phenom Kris Bryant make Mark Appel the next Sam Bowie?Shifting Bryant to the outfield and inserting Baez would allow the Cubs to shore up the infield defense without trading any of their young stars. But it also puts Bryant in a new position and doesn’t fix any problems on the mound.
The case for trading Castro is fairly straightforward.
The Cubs could swap him for pitching help, move Russell over to shortstop and slip Baez back in at second base. There’s enough depth to compensate for Castro’s loss in the infield, and a trade would provide an immediate boost to the rotation — and possibly the bullpen, too — in one swoop.
Castro is capable of bringing in a sizable haul. He’s still young at 25, is a three-time all-star and owns a career .283 batting average. There are few teams that wouldn’t improve by adding him.
There is, though, a good case for not trading Castro, too.
As FOX Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal wrote Thursday, Castro is the “known commodity” among the infielders, and the Cubs should think twice about trading him:
Castro, 25, is the most proven of the infielders, a three-time All-Star, a clubhouse leader.
And his contract, which is paying him $6 million this season and $37 million from 2016 to ’19, is remarkably club-friendly.
True, Castro is not hitting as well as he normally does — his offense tends to be streaky, and his groundball percentage through 39 games is at a career-high level. But he is engaged, committed, delighted to finally be part of a winning club.
It’s important not to be short-sighted about the season Castro is having. Sure, his contributions through two months have been few, but he’s known to be streaky. He batted .221 last July and .378 in August.
The bottom line is this: The Cubs are in a great position right now, and they can take their time listening to offers for Castro. If something too good to pass up comes along, they can strike a deal.
If the right trade doesn’t present itself, the Cubs would get a great deal of depth from Baez as a spot starter, defensive replacement and (maybe?) a pinch-hitter.
Always nice to have options.