Since acquiring Addison Russell last summer, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have maintained publicly that Starlin Castro is the Cubs’ shortstop. Castro is a unique talent, one that puts up the numbers at the plate in the big leagues and is often underappreciated by the media and fan base.
Starlin Castro had a full Spring Training for the first time since 2012 and he struggled in the field. To put it simply, he was not good. While Joe Maddon was stressing the importance of defense with the team and media, Castro appeared lost defensively and not nearly as focused as he was last season.
In all fairness to Castro, Joe Maddon is his fifth manager since he broke in the majors in May of 2010. Castro has never played on a team with expectations or a winning record. And there was talk during the winter that both Castro and Anthony Rizzo playing meaningful games beyond the first two weeks of a season would help both players take their game to the next level.
While Castro was struggling in the field this spring, Addison Russell spent his time at shortstop showing what all of the scouting reports having been saying. Russell stood out this spring and if not for Kris Bryant, Russell would have garnered a lot more attention.
Buster Olney brought up the fact that once Kris Bryant is called up to the majors, the attention will turn to Addison Russell. Olney thinks Russell could be up by July 1. In his column Tuesday morning, Olney said the Cubs “shortstop situation is a work in progress” and pointed to the Cubs being concerned about Starlin Castro’s defense.
According to Olney, “Russell won over his teammates in a big way this spring with his talent … especially on defense, showing quickness and excellent hands … but also with his demeanor, particularly the serious way he goes about his work.” Olney thinks that within the clubhouse, Russell is viewed as the best defensive shortstop in the organization. And scouts outside of the Cubs “believe Russell could hit in the big leagues well enough right now to support his defense.”
Olney pointed out “everything about the Cubs seems to be accelerating, from the timetable to contention” but Castro hasn’t stepped up his play yet. Olney provided examples of Castro’s defense, or lack thereof on Sunday night, plus the fact David Ross did not appear happy with Castro not getting in front of the ball Ross threw to second base that ended up in center field. Questions were raised at the time as to why Castro didn’t play the ball differently and keep it from skipping past him.
With three more than capable shortstops in the system, the thought was eventually the front office would end up moving Starlin Castro or Addison Russell or Javier Baez in a deal to acquire pitching. And it might be Castro the Cubs are willing to trade. According to Buster Olney, “Other teams say the Cubs made it clear over the winter that they’d be willing to talk about the shortstop in trade scenarios.”
Counting this season, Starlin Castro is owed $44 million over the next five years ($6 million in 2015, $7 million in 2016, $9 million in 2017, $10 million in 2018, $11 million in 2019 and a club option for $16 million in 2020 with a $1 million buyout) but according to Olney, there is concern around the league “if he is emotionally invested enough to do all that is asked of a shortstop.”
Castro and Russell have said they would be willing to move positions in order to accommodate the other at the big league level. And Olney mentioned that if Castro isn’t traded, a move to third base might be a better fit for him. Castro would only have to react at third base and would not have time to think as much as he does at shortstop.
Spring Training and one game of a season should not change the front office’s perception of Starlin Castro. If he continues to struggle in the field once Kris Bryant is promoted the noise will get louder for the Cubs to make a change at shortstop.