Starlin Castro’s injury sparks trade rumors
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter September 3, 2014 10:53PM
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Less than two months after a trade started the talk in July, all it took was a high ankle sprain on Sept. 2 for the speculation to start all over again.
This time rising to this level: Has Starlin Castro played his last game as a Cub?
The Cubs continue to insist Castro is their shortstop. But no one in the organization has denied some of their newly overstocked inventory of young middle-infield talent could be in play this winter when they start getting aggressive in filling long-term needs, such as frontline pitching.
And when the team suggested the injury Castro suffered Tuesday against the Brewers might end his season, could it mean the franchise’s first three-time All-Star shortstop in four decades was done as a Cub when he crossed the plate in agony after a gruesome-looking slide.
“He’s our shortstop,” general manager Jed Hoyer reiterated Wednesday. “And there’s a reason why we have Javy [Baez] playing second base right now.”
But Baez is the Cubs’ every-day shortstop the rest of the season, Hoyer said, unless Castro beats the four-week prognosis for his injury and returns by Sept. 28 — as he seems to think he can.
This despite the fact the Cubs rave about Baez’s ability at short — “It’s obvious how much more comfortable he is at shortstop than second,” Hoyer said — and say it’s second base where he needs the most work.
If Castro’s the shortstop next April and Baez is the potential/projected second baseman, why not keep Baez working at second the last month and play Arismendy Alcantara, another natural shortstop, there?
“It’s a fair question, but we’ll put Javy at short,” Hoyer said, explaining that it’s about assuring depth going forward.
Castro and his agent were told since July when coveted shortstop prospect Addison Russell was acquired in the Jeff Samardzija trade from Oakland that it had no bearing on Castro’s continued status as the Cubs’ long-term shortstop in the front office’s mind.
But sources said when the Cubs made the trade, they intended to dangle their new surplus of valuable shortstops to several potential trading partners in their search for young power starting pitchers.
The New York Mets, Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins all have shortstop needs and stores of young pitching. And each is said to have eyeballed one or more of the Cubs’ young shortstops.
Even team president Theo Epstein said after acquiring Russell that while the Cubs like the idea of all the shortstops finding homes in the same Cubs lineup, he won’t rule out dealing from the strength.
The downside to dealing Castro is he’s the only one in the bunch who has proved he can perform at a high level in the majors. He’s the Cubs’ first shortstop with at least three All-Star selections since Don Kessinger.
He has more hits than any shortstop over the last four seasons, led the league in hits in 2011 at 21 and at some point next season is all but assured — barring another injury — of reaching 1,000 career hits at 25.
“He showed more power than he’d shown earlier in his career,” Hoyer said.
“He’s still hitting for a high batting average. It’s too bad. He was on a hot streak right now, and he was probably hoping to get his batting average over .300.”
Since struggling in July, Castro was on a 40-for-103 (.388) tear that boosted his average to .292, which would be his best in three years (.307 in 2011).
“We’re operating under the assumption he’s going to be out for the year,” Hoyer said.
“We’re not going to shut him down. His mentality right now is that he can beat four weeks and come back. And we’re not going to defeat that. If nothing else, that’ll send him off into the offseason healthy and ready to go.”