By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) I’ve been calling Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro “The Dictator” since he was promoted from Double-A Tennessee to the Cubs in 2010. Like many a real political dictator, Castro has made some really dumb decisions. Not the genocide or suppressing information coming in and going out of the country dumb, but still dumb.
The latest of Castro’s mental gaffes was forgetting how many outs there were in the fifth inning of Monday’s game against the San Francisco Giants on a potential double play ball. The tying run for the Giants scored because of that.
“It’s very embarrassing,” Castro said after the game. “This can’t happen. I apologize to my team and everybody because that kind of thing is not supposed to happen.”
True. It is embarrassing. For Castro, for his teammates and coaches, and for fans of the Cubs when such “Cubbie plays” happen. Unlike a real dictator, though, there need not be a coup or some termination by a higher political power in the way manager Dale Sveum hinted.
“It’s not acceptable,” Sveum said. “These things have got to stop happening, or we’re just going to stop playing him.”
Okay, Dale, you and I both know that just isn’t true.
I get Sveum’s frustration, and I get that as Castro’s manager he has to have some accountability for Castro going out to lunch while on the diamond once in a while. What Sveum certainly knows and perhaps just won’t or at least can’t say is that Starlin Castro is the only position player on this Cubs team that matters whatsoever.
Castro is far and away the best player on this team. After leading the National League in hits in 2011 he’s putting up impressive 2012 numbers with a .305 batting average, four home runs, 32 RBI (leading the team), 23 runs, and 15 steals.
To get geekier about him, he’s tied for the best WAR on the team with Bryan LaHair—who in the last few weeks realized that he’s Bryan LaHair—at a non-mind-blowing 1.5, but it’s still tops on the roster. He also has a UZR/150 of 12.9, which is 23rd in all of baseball. Now, UZR is not a perfect stat, but odds are Castro is a plus defender based on that number.
And notice that I pointed out that Castro was called up to the big club from Double-A. He played a total of 57 Double-A games and exactly zero Triple-A games before donning a major league uniform. The minors are where a potential stud player like everyone knew Castro was is supposed to iron out lots of wrinkles in his game, be they physical or mental. Castro’s physical gifts were so immense that he was brought up to the majors very quickly—and seemingly without regards for his penchant for brain farts.
While physically just fine at the major league level, Starlin Castro may be a little behind mentally, and it may not be his fault either. That’s probably the fault of the Jim Hendry era of Cubs baseball, and it’s something Sveum will have to live with.
Benching Castro would mean fielding what amounts to a very good Triple-A team, and while expectations are not immediately high for this team, Sveum owes to fans to put the best possible product on the field every day. Castro is just that. He’s the face of this team. The rest of the Cubs’ position players are just bodies out there to have this team sputter along in futility while Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer hopefully work their magic behind the scenes to push this errant shopping cart straight to a World Series championship, something that will take a few years if one wants to face reality.
Speaking of the Cubs anemic offense of late, Sveum said Monday after the loss, “You take things like this personally. I’ve lost sleep over it. You take pride in a lot of things, and that’s one of them.”
Benching your best player doesn’t really seem like it would be Ambien, does it, Dale?
I don’t know exactly what the Epstoyer plan is for Castro long term or if he fits in their special great plan (Hanley Ramirez didn’t fit their Red Sox plan, remember), but they certainly understand that Castro is the only jewel in this Burger King crown of a squad right now and Castro is a proven quality player and will be for years to come. Even at just 22 years of age, a guy like that does not get benched unless he is showing blatant insubordination, and Castro does not seem like that kind of jerk. The unfortunate truth is that he’s learning tough lessons about keeping sharp at all times while in the majors.
But Castro’s mental errors are not now nor will they be in the near future something that will separate the Cubs from the quality teams in the National League. The lack of talent surrounding him will be, and there won’t be much for a while. That includes LaHair, who while surprising many so far in 2012 is beginning to fall back to earth, and Alfonso Soriano, another player prone to mental errors from time to time who isn’t getting benched anytime soon either.
Hopefully embarrassment is enough for Castro to make a conscious effort to keep his head in the game. It’s not like he wants to make those mistakes. But having the kid stand in a corner for time out, the baseball equivalent of the UN wrist-slapping a dictator, is not going to teach him a bigger lesson nor will it produce anything positive.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.