The Cubs must capitalize on Starlin Castro’s hot bat

For Starlin Castro, much of the 2015 season has been one to forget. He was the subject of constant trade rumors leading up to the deadline, had his effort level questioned, was bumped off the shortstop position in favor of Addison Russell, and eventually found himself in a bench role. Castro is a three-time All-Star, but with his contract stretching to 2019 with a $16 million option for 2020, the Chicago Cubs had begun looking at him as a sunk cost. After hovering in the low-.300s for the early part of the season, Castro was in a funk at the plate, and his batting average sunk all the way to .235. In the field, his defense, never a strong suit, paled in comparison to the abilities of Russell.

Beginning in August, the Cubs turned Castro into a role player. He started only 16 games in the month of August, but his bat began to heat up. After batting .170 in July, Castro turned in a .296/.315/.437 line in August. He’s been even better in September, batting .407 with four home runs and 18 RBI in only 14 starts and 65 plate appearances. Whether it was the fact that Castro avoided being traded, or he finally accepted his diminishing role, all Castro has done the past two months is hit. Joe Maddon has used Castro along with Tommy La Stella and Javier Baez, but it’s been Castro who has swung the hottest bat by far. La Stella has a solid but unspectacular slash line of .273/.333/.418 on the season while Baez, a strikeout waiting to happen, has a line of .281/.313/.391 with 19 strikeouts in 22 games. Baez struck out 95 times in only 213 at-bats in 2014. Castro was downright awful in the first half, but has hit .297/.321/.456 for the second half.

The Cubs are still an extremely young lineup, Castro included. He is still only 25 years old, but on this team, he is a veteran. Russell has tailed off significantly in September with just a .211 batting average and 26 strikeouts in 71 at-bats. If the Cubs do get past the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card game (assuming the standings stay the same), the St. Louis Cardinals and their phenomenal pitching staff are waiting. It’s hard to imagine Russell rediscovering his swing against a pitching staff that is having a historically strong season. Russell has been very good in the field all year, and Maddon should not consider moving him to the bench come the postseason. Russell’s glove is still an asset at shortstop, but his bat may be reduced to a detriment to the Cubs.

That’s where Castro comes in.

Over the past two months, Castro has looked like the player the Cubs gave a seven-year contract after just two full seasons in the big leagues. Castro is barely above replacement level defensively for his career, but with the added pressure to score runs caused by Russell’s reduction to a nearly surefire out in October, the Cubs should consider living with Castro’s glove at second base. At that position, his defensive inabilities will mostly be masked.

Castro is a bit of a Catch-22 for the Cubs. His glove makes him a non-starter in most cases, but Russell has slumped so badly while Castro has hit so well in September, that the defensive issues with Castro almost have to be overlooked. Starlin Castro has proven in September that his bat is too good to be ignored by the Cubs. With the cloud of trade rumors that dogged him the entire first half of the season, Castro finally appears comfortable and content with his role on the team. It’s time for a return to the everyday starting lineup.

Had Starlin Castro reached the Majors with this current iteration of Cubs’ rookies, it’s unlikely he would have been handed the massive contract he received prior to the 2013 season. There were still major concerns about Castro’s defense and maturity level at the time, but the Cubs were not a good team and Castro was their best player. The thought was that he would grow into the contract. Three years into the contract, the Cubs are still mostly waiting for that maturity to come. Castro may well be on the trade block again come the offseason, especially with Baez looking closer to being Major League ready. For now, however, Joe Maddon and the Cubs must do their best to ride out the hot streak that Castro is currently on. If he can continue this level of production into the postseason, the Cubs become that much more of a threat to come out of the National League.

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