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Reportedly re-signed SS-R Starlin Castro to a seven-year contract extension worth $60 million with a club option worth $16 million for the 2020 season. [8/18]
After spending most of the season focusing on players from outside the organization, Jed Hoyer recently turned his attention inward. By pursuing and consummating a contract extension with the franchise’s best player, Hoyer has given Cubs fans a reason to celebrate. This just weeks after reports had the Cubs listening to offers for every player, Castro included. The problem with trading Castro is getting equal value. There aren’t many players, prospects or otherwise, with Castro’s upside and track record at the big-league level. Ostensibly, a reasonable offer never materialized and Hoyer did the next best thing to adding a few young, impact players: he re-signed his own to a sizable extension.
Extending a two-time All-Star requires capital more than intellect. The Cubs have always had the former. Don’t let Castro’s relatively down season fool you, however. Chicago did not receive a discount. Not when Castro’s deal is compared to the six-year, $50 million extension signed by Justin Upton in March 2010. The parallels between Castro and Upton extend beyond the average annual value. Both were 22 year olds teeming with Hall of Fame-caliber upside when they signed their deals.
There were differences in playing styles; Upton was a better power hitter and a more polished batter, Castro plays a tough position and excels at hitting for average. But there’s also one other similarity worth noting. Castro and Upton master at alienating onlookers. Upton has fallen out of favor to the extent where a member of the D’Backs ownership group took him to task on a local radio show. None of the Cubs owners have shamed Castro publicly, yet. Castro’s mental gaffes have drawn the ire of fans. Plays like the one below, from last week, have turned one of the game’s most exciting young talents into one of the game’s most polarizing figures.
After an incident of mind-wandering last season, Steven Goldman prescribed a good heaping of managerial and veteran influence for Castro’s betterment. While no one can speak to the quality of the Cubs’ veteran leadership, the club did make a change at manager. Thus far, Dale Sveum has taken a tough love approach with Castro. Sveum floated the idea of benching Castro after a few blunders, and recently evaluated his abilities by calling him a sixth- or seventh-place hitter. The money is now heavily on Castro’s side along with the on-the-field and off-the-field value.
Which brings up another foil: Will Sveum alter how he deals with Castro now? The smart money is on no; a manager who treats his players differently based on earnings is probably not a manager long for the league. But how many times can Sveum bench the club’s $60 million investment for mental mistakes before ownership decides to take action? True, this isn’t a superstar-ran league like the NBA. Yet, were a power struggle to occur, it’s easy to see Castro winning.
Enough with the clubhouse politics, though. Castro has shown a willingness to improve his game. His defense is improved this season, and while the Cubs still may opt to move him from the position in the future—especially if they feel his defensive responsibilities are weighing down his bat—it’s not the foregone conclusion it once was. At the plate, Castro is hitting for more power than he had in previous seasons. Yes, his plate discipline is still rough, and he could stand to take a few more walks, but a true-talent .290-to-.300 hitter is all but guaranteed to have an above-average OBP nowadays.
Maybe Castro will fall short of those Cooperstown projections. Maybe he’ll never be more than a better-than-average hitter that happens to play shortstop and drives everyone nuts with an occasionally boneheaded mistake. Even then, he’ll be worth the money he's paid; if not to the Cubs, then to one of the other teams.