If you haven’t chosen a side in the Castro/Baez debate, you may not be a true Cubs fan
If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, this is an issue you have debated (or argued) with other Cubs’ fans this season. There isn’t much middle ground with this. Some people just don’t like Starlin Castro. The disregard his good years, using only his bad as the defense to why he should be benched, traded, or simply released (Yes, I’ve seen this actually said). The answer generally finds Addison Russell at shortstop–which I fully agree with in the near future–and Javier Baez becoming the savior at second base hitting like he has at Triple-A Iowa.
I spend a lot of time in Cubs’ discussion groups interacting with fans. I love having my finger on the pulse of Cubs nation. Sometimes the blood pressure runs a little high–we’re 10 games over .500 guys, enjoy it a bit–but it’s always enjoyable to interact with the masses. But this Baez/Castro thing is getting out of control.
When Baez came up last year and made his debut, I was excited as any other Cubs fan out there. And the home run against the Colorado Rockies? I shot out of my chair declaring “The Future is Now”! Well, that was somewhat true. Thanks to the kids, it appears the future IS now. But those kids don’t include Baez, at least as of now.
Cubs skipper Joe Maddon has made it clear he’s on the side of Baez. He loves his glove and potential. And Maddon knows young players well. He doesn’t make the personnel decisions. But you can be sure if he has input that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer welcome it. So if he REALLY believed Baez was the answer, I think he would give his best sales pitch. But from afar, Maddon likely watched last season as Baez came in with a bang–then went out with a fizzle.
But in this, his sixth season, Castro has hit .280 or better in four seasons–.300 or better twice, just missing with a .292 last year.
We’ve delved into numbers on many occasions on these two. Yes, Castro is struggling in Chicago. And yes, Baez is tearing the cover off the ball in Iowa. Neither of those makes it clear what the solution should be. You can’t assume Baez is going to bring that bat to Chicago–especially if the Cubs were to “bench” Castro to make it happen. Baez didn’t handle the pressure well last year, batting .169 in 52 games with the Cubs. Mike Olt did better. Heck, Darwin Barney was better and had the glove, but both had Cubs’ fans screaming for them to go. Yet here they are, begging for Baez.
Mar 10, 2015; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman second baseman Javier Baez celebrates after hitting a fourth inning home run against the Cleveland Indians during a spring training baseball game at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Castro, on the other hand, is the Cubs new “lightning rod”. There isn’t much “on the fence” with fans. Trust me, I see it every day. I’ll fully admit that it’s been a disappointing season for Castro. So was 2013. But calling for his job just doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve seen some say he’s “peaked”, and is on the way down. The numbers don’t support that. Inconsistent? Very, especially over the last three years. But in this, his sixth season, Castro has hit .280 or better in four seasons–.300 or better twice, just missing with a .292 last year. His glove at short is indeed a concern.
So what’s the answer?
Short-term is moving Castro to second and Russell to shortstop. But the Cubs aren’t going to do that now. Not in the middle of a postseason push. Castro spends a lot of time working to improve his defense. He’s not an inept fielder. some of the dazzling plays he makes indicate that. But he’s inconsistent, and shortstop needs a steady glove man. The switch works perfect for that.
There are many reasons the Cubs are waiting to bring up Baez. He just returned from missing almost two months with a broken finger. He’s indeed on a hot-streak, but the Cubs want to see him have a prolonged one and establish himself first. They also don’t want to call him up without having the ability to give him consistent at-bats. This goes back to the point that they aren’t going to bench Castro and put the pressure on Baez’s shoulders.
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His best chance to come up is as a super-sub, spelling the two rookies in Kris Bryant and Russell, as well as Castro. There had been talk of Baez learning the outfield, but with the news that Kyle Schwarber won’t be sent down on Miguel Montero‘s return, it’s clear that there won’t be at-bats out there for him, plus he’s yet to see any time playing the outfield.
Castro is just 25, but we seem to forget that because he seems to have been around forever. Baez is 22. We aren’t talking an “over-the-hill” player against the future. Castro has proven it at the Major League level, while Baez has not. At this point, Baez falls into that “AAAA” category (can destroy the minors, but not at the big league level).
For the sake of the Cubs franchise, I hope when Baez makes his return that he is successful. Would I be open to see Castro traded if Baez had extended success in Chicago? Yes. But until then, Castro and Russell remain the best options in the middle infield for the Cubs, even if they do need to be switched.