Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro entered 2014 with a lot at stake. After three straight above-average years to begin his career, Castro faltered badly in 2013. It wasn’t difficult to see why that happened. Castro’s peripherals moved in the wrong direction, and his BABIP dropped to a career-low .290. On top of that, he seemed out of sorts at the plate, posting negative pitch values against anything with decent velocity. Explaining why this happened, though, was difficult, and made Castro impossible to project going into 2014. Those questions were rendered moot after Castro posted his finest offensive season in 2014. As a reward, the Cubs might ship him to another club in 2015.
For most teams, dealing a 25-year-old shortstop with the potential to be one of the best hitters at his position would seen silly. For the Cubs, it might actually make sense. Javier Baez was expected to push Castro even before the 2014 rebound. The team’s acquisition of Addison Russell at the deadline only complicated things. The club already appears to have moved Arismendy Alcantara off second base in order to accommodate whoever loses the future battle at short. Third base is out of the question with Kris Bryant progressing at an insane rate in the minors. That leaves one man out of a spot.
It’s assumed that man will be Castro for a couple of reasons. First off, he’ll be more expensive sooner. Castro’s contract is actually pretty team friendly if he doesn’t falter again, but Russell and Baez will be dirt cheap for the next couple seasons. Based on how much buzz there is about the Cubs spending money during the offseason, maybe this isn’t as big an issue as initially anticipated. There seems to be a sense the team will spend once it believes it can compete, and that might be soon.
The bigger reason Castro may get the axe is that he’s old news. The great thing about prospects is that hope springs eternal. They are always perceived to be better than the guy at the majors because they’ve never failed in the majors. Cubs fans have already seen Castro go through some growing pains in the majors, making the prospect of Russell or Baez enticing. The truth is, while the Cubs have amassed a ridiculous collection of talent in the minors, not all of these guys are going to make it. Or, at least, there’s a very good chance one falls short of expectations. The real question the team needs to be asking is whether it believes Baez and Russell will be better than Castro going forward.
We have no way of knowing how Baez or Russell will perform in the majors, so evaluating them is out of the question. We can, however, look at what Castro has done thus far, and see which players he’s comparable to moving forward.
The above list shows the most similar shortstop to Castro from age-20 through age-24 by wOBA. A few things stand out here. For one, Castro has the second-most plate appearances of any of the bunch. There are some great players on this list, and it says something that Castro has experienced this much success and experience at his age. The next thing that probably sticks out are the other names. This is some pretty good company. There are two Hall of Famers here, and a third, Alan Trammell, who has a pretty good case for enshrinement. After that, there are a number of near-elite/above-average players here, including Jose Reyes, Edgar Renteria and Jimmy Rollins.
The least successful players here as far as hitting is concerned are Chris Speier and Elvis Andrus. Jeff Blauser could be included too, but he was pretty good up until age-28, then he fell apart. The jury is still out on Andrus developing into a better hitter, but his defense makes him a good candidate to stick around for a long time. That seems to be what happened with Speier.
Castro doesn’t appear to have the same defensive chops, so his value will be more dependent on his ability to hit. That doesn’t appear to be a problem for him, which bodes well moving forward. We can’t really know for sure if Castro will go on to have a similar career as Renteria or Rollins, but he’s at least put himself in their company at this point in his career. Baez and Russell have seemingly unlimited potential, but is it reasonable to expect them to produce at this level? If the Cubs decide to give up on Castro, it will say a lot more about their faith in those two prospects than it will about Castro’s ability to produce going forward.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.