By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) He can be a knucklehead on the basepaths, his glove isn’t exactly a golden one and he’s never met a pitch that he didn’t like.
But, despite the chinks in his armor, Starlin Castro’s impending seven-year, $60 million contract extension not only makes a lot of dollars for the 22-year-old shortstop, for the Chicago Cubs, it also makes a ton of sense.
Now, not everyone will agree, as a sizable head count in Chicago baseball circles can be found this week grousing about Castro’s repeated brain cramps, his lack of concentration and a batting average that has has taken a nose dive of late. The critics will tell you that Starling hasn’t yet deserved to become “Cash-tro” with such a lengthy extension.
But don’t listen to them.
Because, this deal for Castro – which is expected to be finalized within the next week, or so – isn’t about who the kid in the Cubs’ middle is right now. Rather, it’s about who the team thinks he’s going to be. But, the beauty of Castro’s extension is that even if he doesn’t blossom into the perennial All-Star and potential MVP-caliber-type of player that many believe he will become, the deal is still a savvy one for the Cubs.
That’s because, barring major injury, the Cubs will always be able to deal Castro – and not only because Theo Epstein & Co. reportedly won’t be giving him a no-trade clause, as Jim “Santa Clause” Hendry surely would have. It’s because there will always be a market for a bat like Castro’s, even if the rest of his skill – and mental – sets never do catch up to his quick bat.
The kid is just a natural-born hitter. That isn’t going to change.
Even if lately it appears as if it has.
Last week, 670 The Score senior columnist Dan Bernstein’s asked in his column, “What’s Wrong With Starlin Castro?” and pointed out how Castro’s batting average and on-base percentage had tumbled from a robust .333/.351 in March/April to an anemic .180/.255 during the first two weeks of August.
Now, clearly, that’s a sharp decline. But I don’t see any reason for major concern – neither legitimate nor of the Chicken Little variety. Not with the resume that Castro has already put together in the big leagues. Both his talents and his future are as bright as any player on the Cubs – and, really, as bright as any kid his age not named Mike Trout.
As of today, Castro is batting .277 on the season – significantly below his career mark of .296 – but he’s still averaging more than 1.1 hits per game as he closes in on 500 for his career (he’s currently at 481).
As I wrote in a column in June, of the 28 men in Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club, only four of them have had at least 500 hits by the age of 22 – Robin Yount (717), Al Kaline (710), Ty Cobb (616) and Hank Aaron (520). The first three players all debuted when they were 18 years old and were in their fifth season at that point, while Aaron broke into the bigs at age 20 – just like Castro – and was in his third year.
As a point of comparison, when Pete Rose was 22, he had just 170 of them after completing his first season and winning Rookie of the Year. Stan Musial, meanwhile, had 387 hits at 22 years old, while Carl Yastrzemski had just 346.
It isn’t a fluke that Castro’s name can be mentioned with such legends. The kid can flat-out hit. And it’s a very safe bet to say that he always will – even if he’s slumping right now, a lull I attribute at least in part to Castro’s adjustment to the absence of fired Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
If one day soon Castro becomes as good at the other parts of his game as he is at the plate, the Cubs will have gotten an enormous bargain by locking him at just $8.57 million a year through the age of 29. But even if he never fully pans out in the field or on the basepaths, Castro will still be a valuable trading chip for the ballclub.
Because of that bat on his shoulder.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.