By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has heard some variation of the question countless times now.READ MORE: 'When I Finally Got To Be Elvira, That's When My Life Calmed Down': Mistress Of The Dark Peels Back The Curtain
Is Starlin Castro your team’s shortstop of the future?
“He’s our shortstop going forward,” Epstein said of Castro when he spoke to Jason Goff and Laurence Holmes on June 26.
Epstein’s answer then was fittingly noncommittal, as Castro is a representative of the Jim Hendry era and has unsecretively been trade bait all season.
The main problem since that interview is that Castro has had an abysmal July. This month’s slash line is — and I want to warn readers that some of these numbers may be disturbing, especially to children — .157/.178/.200. Castro’s strikeout rate is 23.3 percent this month. For 2015 — even after a solid April — Castro sports a career-worst .239/.272/.310 slash line. And my nonexistent sources say he thinks Donald Trump makes a lot of good points.
So, about that trading Castro thing …
I spoke to multiple MLB execs/scouts today. Common theme: Starlin Castro has little trade value right now. Can't be centerpiece of big deal.— David Kaplan (@thekapman) July 22, 2015
It’s not for a lack of trying to move Castro on the part of Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. Regarding the a pursuit of Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, ESPN’s Jason Stark reported:
“Other clubs say the Cubs are dangling Javier Baez and Starlin Castro as the centerpieces of a potential deal. But the Phillies appear no more than lukewarm about either of them. And it’s hard to see how the Cubs could structure an alternate package without trading young players they’d planned to build around, not move.”
The reality that Castro won’t be traded this season (and isn’t getting benched or sent to Iowa like the lazy angry mantra goes) should start to set in for Cubs fans. While initially a nauseating thought, consider the entire enigma that is Starlin Castro. Yes, he’ll make a physical or mental error in the field about once a week that makes you post a disgruntled dog meme on social media. Sure, he’s been killing or fanning worms with his bat this year, with ground ball and line drive rates that are a respectively brutal 56.3 percent and 15.5 percent, markedly worse than his career averages.
But logic dictates he can’t be this bad forever.
“It’s really hard to find offense in the middle infield, and so just by virtue of being the offensive player that he is with the sort of innate ability to get his bat on the baseball and produce some offense, he’s a real competitive advantage for us,” Epstein said back in June.
Castro won’t continue his July strikeout rate, because his history suggests so. Only once in his career has he struck out at a worse clip (23.9 percent in June 2014), and only six months otherwise in his career have had a strikeout rate of 20 percent or above.READ MORE: Teen Stabbed With Scissors After Argument On CTA Red Line Platform At Jackson Station
“Sometimes people judge Starlin — they evaluate him based on what they maybe hoped he might be when he broke in at age 19, 20,” Epstein said. “He’s held to a bit of an unfair standard, and I think the proper thing to do is to evaluate him against the other 29 shortstops or the other 59 middle infielders in the game, and when you do that, and you look with sort of a broader lens and not just focusing in on the last couple months, he’s really an impactful offensive shortstop. And so that helps us win, and the game’s more than that, so it’s important that he continue to make strides defensively and continue to keep his head in the game. But he’s a veteran on this team. He’s 25 years old, and when he plays well, we tend to play well.”
Looking at Castro’s season second halves — omitting the all-time bad 2013 season of which we shall never again expose our eyes to — he’s a guy known to rebound. Here’s a list of his career OPS in the first half compared to the second half:
2010: .716 in first half; .784 in second half
2011: .763 in first half; .786 in second half
2012: .736 in first half; .773 in second half
2014: .766 in first half; .804 in second half
Here are his respective halves’ wRC+:
2010: 83 in first half; 110 in second half
2011: 105 in first half; 113 in second half
2012: 94 in first half; 106 in second half
2014: 111 in first half; 124 in second half
Castro’s also not the bozo so many want to dismissively label him as. The guy really cares about his performance and kills himself over perceptions — self- and otherwise — of letting the team down. So he practices and studies and works and tweaks.
“My front hip is open a little bit,” Castro said about all the grounders off his bat. “That’s what I’m working on. Watching the video from last year. Trying to stay closed and think middle all the way.”
Castro continues to stay positive, promising to forget about his first half and noting that he’s in no way in the funk of 2013. He strives to do well and doesn’t have an ego that rests on born talent working itself out.
“He’s very studious and understands his swing,” hitting coach John Mallee said.
During the nightcap of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Reds, Castro botched a routine grounder that should have been an easy double play. The following inning, he hit an RBI double. It was the ultimate yin/yang of the Starlin Castro experience.
There’s bad to be had, but redemption is always somewhere out there. Ideally, Castro is flipped for something better for the team, but that’s now unlikely. And in spring training, the ideal was the young team — with the 25-year-old veteran shortstop — as a whole making strides, not so much sitting in the wild-card spot the Cubs currently are in, despite a middle infield that hasn’t hit (and team power that hasn’t lived up to what it will be).
Going forward, assume the three-time All-Star Starlin Castro is here. And as this team moves forward, that might not be as bad as you expect.MORE NEWS: Record 53,000 Rat Complaints Help Chicago Retain Crown As Rattiest City In America For 7th Year In A Row
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.