It was on this day in 2006 that a 16-year-old from Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic signed an amateur contract with the Cubs. Over the last decade, Starlin Castro has gone from being a prized prospect and “face of the franchise” stardom all the way to perhaps being becoming a symbol of the team’s rebuilding years rather than a cornerstone of their future.
Castro quickly rose through Chicago’s minor league system and debuted in the majors in 2010. At first, it seemed like Castro was a natural, posting a .755 OPS over 125 games in his rookie year and then hitting .307/.341/.432 (with a league-leading 207 hits) over 715 plate appearances in 2011. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer cleared the deck of several of the old regime’s players in their first year running the team, but they quickly locked up Castro, signing the shortstop to a seven-year, $60MM extension in August 2012.
While that extension has been widely debated in the last few years, at the time it was seen as a logical move for the Cubs. The deal gave them cost certainty over Castro, who was quickly going to become expensive due to an extra arbitration year as a Super Two player. The contract gave Chicago control over all four arb years, three free agent years and potentially a fourth, as per the $16MM club option ($1MM buyout) for the 2020 season. With Castro enjoying another strong year in 2012, many pundits figured the Cubs were saving themselves money by locking up a young player at a premium position through his 20’s when his best years were theoretically ahead of him.
That investment, however, looks shakier now given how Castro’s inconsistent play over the last three seasons. Castro enjoyed a strong 2014 campaign that saw him hit .292/.339/.438 with 14 homers in 569 PA, but that was sandwiched between two poor seasons. Castro put up virtual replacement player numbers in 2013 (0.1 fWAR) and then last year hit .265/.296/.375 in 578 PA, losing his starting shortstop job to Addison Russell to boot.
Rumors of a position switch or a trade had swirled around Castro essentially ever since the Cubs acquired Russell from the A’s in the summer of 2014. Suddenly, the Cubs had a new blue-chip shortstop prospect to replace their old one, not to mention a young slugger of a middle infield option in Javier Baez. There was great speculation that Castro could be moved to clear a big contract and make way for the future, and it’s possible that a trade could still happen this winter.
That said, Castro’s move to second base turned his season around. He hit .236/.271/.304 in 435 PA from April 5 to August 6, exclusively playing shortstop. His first game at the keystone came on August 7, and Castro proceeded to slash a whopping .353/.373/.588 over his final 143 PA. With Baez still struggling to avoid strikeouts and fully harness his power on the Major League level, the Cubs may well decide to just keep Castro at second next year to either see what they have (with both he or Baez, as well) or at least give Castro more of a showcase should they pursue a midseason trade.
It will probably take more than 143 good plate appearances to convince another team to give up anything of major value since Castro is still owed at least $38MM over the next four years. That said, Castro is still only 25 and has three All-Star appearances under his belt. There are lots of teams in need of help at either middle infield position who could be willing to overlook Castro’s lack of plate discipline and shaky glove, at the right price.
The Cubs already tried to “aggressively” trade him at last summer’s trade deadline, so it remains to be seen if Castro will remain through this new era of competitive Cubs baseball, or if Castro may one day appear in a future This Date In Transactions History that details his move out of the Windy City.