Upon hearing the news of the trade of Starlin Castro, I decided to take a break from writing my usual profile features and write a eulogy of sorts for him.
To me, Castro is the final link to an era of Cubs baseball that most of us hope we never see again, a time where losing was the status quo instead of developing young talent to build a consistent winner.
In 2010, when Castro debuted with the team, the Cubs finished last in their division with a 75-87 record. Owner Tom Ricketts had just one year under his belt as the team owner and veteran favorites Ryan Theriot, Ted Lilly, Mike Fontenot and Derrek Lee were shipped elsewhere. The 20-year old rookie was a ray of sunshine amidst the selloff and batted .300/.347/.408 with 31 doubles, five triples, three home runs, 41 RBI and 10 stolen bases. In his first Major League at bat, he hit a three-run home run and later in the game added a three run triple. In total, he amassed six RBI in his first game, a Major League record at the time. He ended up placing fifth overall in Rookie of the Year voting and gave Cubs fans a player to look forward to for the upcoming season.
The next year, Castro earned his first All-Star nod and announced himself as a potential future star. In 158 games, he batted .307/.341/.432 with 36 doubles, nine triples, 10 home runs, 66 RBI and 22 stolen bases. He ended up being the youngest player ever to lead the National League in hits totaling 207. Castro’s struggles with defense began committing 29 errors and his .961 fielding percentage ended up being the lowest of all full time shortstops. However, at just 21 years old, there was confidence that he would get better with age.
In 2012, Castro continued his rise to stardom. In another All-Star season, he hit .283/.323/.430 with 29 doubles, 12 triples, 14 home runs, 78 RBI and 25 stolen bases as the best player on a team that lost 101 games. His defense improved and his UZR/150 rating of 2.0 was the best of his career. It earned him a seven-year contract extension valued at $60 million that would end up being an albatross of sorts thanks to a down 2013 that put major doubts about his long term potential.
In that year, he batted an abysmal .245/.284/.347 with 34 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs, 44 RBI and nine stolen bases. He showed a lack of focus especially on the field making brutal gaffes by not paying attention to the batter and making crucial errors.
Castro didn’t let that season rattle him and he came back with a vengeance with his third All-Star season. He had his best season of his career with a .292/.339/.438 line with 33 doubles, one triple, 14 home runs, 65 RBI and four stolen bases. He also improved defensively with just 15 errors and his highest fielding percentage of his career at .973. The season was unfortunately cut short due to an ankle injury.
This past season ultimately ended up being his final year with the team and being the only one he played on a winning team. Overall, he batted .265/.296/.375 with 23 doubles, two triples, 11 home runs, 69 RBI and five stolen bases. The numbers may not look like much compared to others in his career, but included a horrendous July where he had an awful .396 OPS with just 16 hits in 94 at bats which led to the first long term benching of his career. It caused him to lose his shortstop job to rookie Addison Russell, a superior fielder. In August, Castro became more of a bench player, but handled it like a veteran batting .296 in limited at bats. He finally won the second base job back in September thanks to an amazing month where he batted .369/.400/.655 with five home runs and 21 RBI.
Looking back, it will be sad to see Castro go. For a while, he was all we had to look forward to when we turned on Cubs games. I remember hearing baseball experts comparing him to Hanley Ramirez and drooling over the tools and abilities he had. Even when his fielding drove us all crazy, we always had the hope he would grow out of it and ascend to the heights he was projected for. It’s very bittersweet that the one player that suffered through all the hard times with us will not get to enjoy the fruits of the labor that the front office had us all toil through the past few years.
I wish Starlin the best and hope with a change of scenery, he can finally become that player we all hoped he would be. Thanks for the memories!
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