Chicago Cubs must decide Starlin Castro’s future – and soon
By Paul Steeno
A mainstay at shortstop on the North Side for the past half-decade, the Chicago Cubs’ Starlin Castro has received fairly limited playing time over the past month or so.
His poor fielding, along with the recent September roster expansion, has forced Cubs manager Joe Maddon to limit the 25-year-old, former three-time All-Star’s role over the last month.
With the season winding down and the Cubs still in the thick of the National League playoff race, Maddon knows that he can no longer experiment with Castro with the expectation that he figures things out and resurrects his season. Is there a role where Castro can positively contribute to this team, or is he destined to spend the rest of the season sitting on the bench?
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As we all saw earlier this week, his glove work is the main reason his future has suddenly become murky.
On Aug. 31, Castro committed three errors in the Cubs’ 13-6 loss against the Cincinnati Reds. Two of these errors occurred in the top of the ninth inning allowing the Reds to score six unearned runs. After the game, Castro owned up to his mistakes to members of the media.
"I don’t think I have any excuse. It’s a really bad night for me and the team. I’ll just come back (Tuesday) and keep the head up and try to make every play and keep swinging the bat."
The previous night, Castro booted a sharply-hit ground ball in the third inning during the Cubs’ 2-0 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In this case, Castro was fortunate the official scorer ruled the play an error as opposed to a hit, because it preserved Jake Arrieta’s first career no-hitter.
Since permanently losing his starting shortstop job to Addison Russell on Aug. 6, Castro has played 14 games at second base. Unfortunately, the results of the position change haven’t been pretty. In 87 innings at second, Castro has a career low 91.5 fielding percentage and has already committed five errors despite the limited sample size.
Obviously, Castro’s struggles at shortstop prompted his position change at the beginning of August. In 108 games at shortstop, he had a 96.3 fielding percentage. He committed 18 errors and had a defensive wins above replacement (dWAR) value of 0.2.
The recent expansion of MLB rosters on Sept. 1 puts Castro’s role moving forward into jeopardy because the Cubs now have more reliable middle infielders on their roster.
The club desperately hopes that highly-touted prospect Javier Baez can play second base in place of Castro. Although he struggled a bit last season defensively, his fielding percentage at both shortstop and second base was better last season than Castro’s mark at both positions this season.
In addition, Tommy La Stella, Chris Coghlan and Jonathan Herrera have had considerable experience at second base. In 285 innings of work this season, the three have combined for only two errors. Compare this to Castro’s five errors at second base in 87 innings.
Castro’s only hope for playing time moving forward may be as a pinch-hitter. Since Maddon benched him, Castro has performed well when given opportunities at the plate. In this time period, he slashed .327/.327/.481 in 52 plate appearances to improve his overall slash line to a respectable .246/.277/.324 – a vast improvement from earlier this year.
His late-game hitting this season also bodes well for his chances of becoming a regular pinch hitter for the Cubs moving forward. In 45 plate appearances in the ninth inning, Castro has slashed .326/.356/.419 with 14 hits and four RBI. In extras, his hitting numbers have been even better. He has slashed .462/.563/.462 in games that have gone into extra innings this season.
If Castro wants a role on this team moving forward, it is going to have to be as a pinch-hitter. The Cubs can no longer tolerate his mistakes in the field. However, Maddon made a recent move that calls into question whether Castro will receive much playing time at all during the rest of the season.
In the Cubs’ 5-4 victory against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night, Maddon didn’t let Castro enter the game. Could this benching, the second of the season for Castro, be permanent?