One year ago in August, things were looking bright for Chicago Cubs‘ shortstop Starlin Castro.
In August of 2012, Castro signed a seven year, $60 million contract extension with the Cubs to solidify his status as one of the Cubs’ core players.
One year into that contract, and a debate is beginning to start over whether or not Castro is still recognized as one of the Cubs’ core players.
Castro has struggled this season.
In fact, struggled may be an understatement.
In 538 plate appearances with the Cubs this season, Castro is hitting .240/.276/.340 to go along with 7 home runs and 32 RBIs.
Castro’s line this season with the Cubs is the worst it has been throughout his entire professional career–minor league seasons included–with the Cubs. The same can be said about Castro’s BB% of 3.7, strikeout percentage of 19.3, and batting average of balls in play of .289.
In terms of value to the Cubs, Castro has a WAR(wins above replacement) of -0.6, the lowest it has ever been in his Major League career.
If there were a record of mental lapses made by Major League players this season, Castro would certainly lead the league. Castro’s recent lapse came last Saturday when the shortstop lost focus after catching a fly-ball, thus allowing the runner on third base to score.
After benching Castro for the remainder of the game on Saturday, Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum suggested that the 23-year old shortstop had learned his lesson.
Nonetheless, there appears to be some discontent between Sveum and Castro.
In an effort to perhaps send a message to Castro, Sveum batted the shortstop eighth for the first time this season against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday.
Castro, who objected to the idea of batting eighth, didn’t respond as he finished the night 0-for-4.
The Cubs are at a crossroads.
There is Sveum, who has done everything he possibly could to try and get across to Castro with the exception of demoting him to the minor leagues.
Then there is Castro. The shortstop that has been hyped as being one of the Cubs’ core players, and until this season, has played up to that billing.
Sides are being taken. There are many fans that side with Sveum and believe that Castro should be accountable for his struggling offensive season and mental lapses. And, there are many fans that side with Castro in saying the treatment of the young shortstop is unfair.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
The decisive voice in this on-growing tiff between manager and player will likely be the Cubs’ front office. More specifically, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer.
To this point, Epstein and Hoyer have been neutral. Both have committed to Sveum as the team’s manager while also expressing their belief that Castro is still capable of being an All-Star shortstop.
There is no question that Castro, who is only 23 years old, has the potential to be a core player and simply needs more development. However, Sveum is also not wrong for holding struggling players accountable–no matter the age.
This is where Castro apologists would suggest that Sveum treats Castro differently from the veteran players on the team. That should be the case.
There is not much that a manager can do to a veteran with the hope of getting through to that player. However, accountability is a great way to get through to up-and-coming players.
That strategy may work for Sveum with Castro.
Castro is not pleased with batting eighth, so there is evidence that Sveum has managed to get through to the shortstop.
The question now is how will Castro respond.
If he responds with a resurgence in his offensive numbers and a newly-found focus on defense, then this growing civil war will be ceased. However, if Castro continues to struggle offensively and defensively, then Epstein and Hoyer may have to play mediator between player and manager.