COMMENTARY | Of course the Chicago Cubs want to hold on to a space cadet who just had a career-worst season at the plate.
But despite the fact that nearly all of his offensive stats were down this year (well, except for Ks -- those were way up), Castro has plenty of merits. That can be hard to see when the smell of his mental flatulence clears the room or when he swings at a ball in the dirt with a 2-strike count. But there's no denying that the kid's got talent.
So why should the Cubs stick with Castro's potential despite their propensity to flip declining investments for prospects with even more potential? Well, I'm glad you asked.
Improvement in the field
While it may be hard to believe, Starlin Castro's defense has been steadily improving in his time with the Cubs. His .967 fielding percentage was the best of his career and his 22 errors were easily the fewest he's committed.
Even though Castro barely cracks the top 20 defensive shortstops, whether by traditional or the advanced metrics on FanGraphs, he's better than Javier Baez. In only 123 minor league games, Baez committed 44 errors. So Castro becomes the lesser of two evils, and still has a high ceiling if he can buckle down.
He's a known commodity
It's easy to mistake desire for ability; Castro has plenty of the latter, but an on-again, off-again relationship with the former. He can make sparkling defensive plays, diving and throwing out runners from the outfield grass. But then he can forget how many outs there are or he'll make an awful throw.
Inconsistent as he is, though, the Cubs know what they've got with Starlin Castro. He's a player who may well be capable of returning to form as a .300 hitter. A maddening specimen whose aggressiveness is a blessing and a curse, #13 is a 2-time All-Star and there's no guarantee that a prospect will be any better.
His contract is a good value … for now
In 1992, Ryne Sandberg signed for $7.1 million/season and was the highest-paid player in baseball. Now, Starlin Castro is making $5 million and it's considered a good value. Well, it was a good value for a .300 hitter who was projected to develop 20-HR power while stealing 25 bases.
And those projections could still come to pass. It'll take better protection in the lineup, a more firm managerial hand, and a consistent spot in the batting order to do it, though.
Castro won't turn 24 until March of 2014, so he's not even into his prime yet. But the Cubs need to get that potential out soon, lest they see him get into the back end of the contract when it gets to 8 figures. Even then, when he's in the last year of the deal he'll only be 30 years old. Most of the Cubs' other moves have been to get younger, and you can't get much younger than Starlin Castro.
Two years ago, you'd never think to question whether or not to keep Castro around. But that was before the expectations of a $60+ million contract were met with decreased performance. Even so, Castro is capable of playing at a high level for a long time.
While Darwin Barney plays stellar defense, he's even more anemic and limited at the plate than Castro at his worst. That makes him expendable, at which point either Castro or Baez can move to the other side of second base.
Am I an idiot for thinking the Cubs should keep Castro? Let me know why or why not below.
Evan Altman is a freelance sportswriter with a wealth of trivial pop culture knowledge. He is a self-loathing Chicago Cubs apologist whose love for the team was cultivated by watching or listening to games on WGN every summer afternoon as a child.
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- Starlin Castro