In a news conference last week, Theo Epstein talked about accountability. He was, of course, referring to outgoing manager Dale Sveum, who was fired after just two seasons, but now is the time to begin holding players accountable, as well.
Starting with young shortstop Starlin Castro.
Castro is coming off the worst season of his young career. He hit just .245, collecting 163 hits – down from 207 just two seasons prior. His defense was, to say the least, dismal, and a combination of mental miscues and physical errors combined to make him a very below-average shortstop last season. His -0.2 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) tied a career-low and his overall WAR of -0.6 was the lowest mark in his four professional seasons.
Despite gaining another year of experience, Castro continued to struggle in terms of working a count at the plate, something that Cubs’ brass hoped would take a step forward this season. However, despite his mental errors, the 23 year-old Castro posted his best career fielding percentage, playing in 161 games this season. His .967 fielding percentage ranked tenth amongst National League shortstops.
So where does the team go from here? Castro, who was not so recently considered a cornerstone of the rebuilding effort, is under team control through 2019 (2020 is a team option). He’s only 23 years old and has tremendous potential.
One option on the table, however unlikely, is that the team looks to flip Castro for top-tier pitching talent; something the organization still severely lacks in the minor league system.
Of the organization’s top ten prospects, according to MLB.com, only two are pitchers. Arodys Vizcaino ranks sixth, followed by Pierce Johnson, seventh. Vizcaino is expected to reach the major league level in 2014, but Johnson is still two seasons away from toeing the rubber at the Friendly Confines.
Apart from the free agent market, if the Cubs want to contend in 2015, as planned,acquiring a plethora of pitching depth is crucial moving forward. Trading Starlin Castro could be a way of meeting that demand.
Being just 23 and having a very team-friendly contract, Castro could draw an array of suitors. If the Cubs could get, at the least, near-Major League-ready talent that ranks near the top of an organization’s system, Chicago could be better positioned to make a run at the postseason in 2015 – something that has evaded the North Siders since 2009.
With Javier Baez tearing up the minor leagues at a torrid pace, it is only a matter of time before he reaches Chicago. If Castro doesn’t return to his .300 batting average, 200-plus hit form, he will merely be a roadblock impeding the progress not only of Baez, but of the Cubs organization, as a whole.