I’ve never been one to get head-over-heels about spring training, other than it signaling the near-end of a long offseason.
Granted there are some interesting position battles each spring, which I understand the spring statistics can play a part in determining final roster cuts, but mostly I keep my fingers crossed the Cubs’ regulars make it to opening day healthy.
Injuries, however, have been mounting for the Cubs since Matt Garza went down with a sore left lat muscle on Feb. 7. Early indications suggested the injury was not serious and would only sideline Garza one week.
Garza, however, didn’t return until two weeks later, when he again felt discomfort throwing. Although the organization, manager Dale Sveum and Garza insist the Cubs are only playing it cautious with the right-hander, he’s not expected to be available through the first month of the regular season.
Dontrelle Willis pulled up lame with shoulder soreness after throwing his first seven pitches this spring. He immediately left the game and has yet to return.
Ian Stewart, who was expected to platoon with Luis Valbuena as the starting third basemen, has been battling a left-quad strain, which has limited him to light jogging and fielding practice.
There’s no question the untimely injury is putting Stewart, who’s playing on a non-guaranteed contract, in jeopardy of not making the team out of spring camp. He’s yet to appear in a Cactus League game.
Third base prospect Josh Vitters is also suffering from a quad strain and has not appeared in game action.
Super utility man Brent Lillibridge entered camp as a favorite to win an opening day roster spot. But he only saw action in five games before suffering a groin strain in early March. He’s still a candidate to make the team if he’s able to return relatively soon.
Aside from Garza, the most concerning setback is with Starlin Castro.
He suffered a tight left hamstring while running out an infield hit on Feb. 27. The Cubs, not surprisingly, have been extra cautious with two-time All-Star’s return.
Castro played in all 162 games last season becoming the first Cubs shortstop ever to do so.
“It was more tight than a pull or anything like that, so he’s just day to day. Thank God, nothing real major at all,” said Sveum.
Paul Schneider of Suicidesqueeze.com posted a list of the average ages of each major league team. The Cubs have the fifth youngest roster in the majors with an average age of 26.6.
Jorge Soler, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Sunday (Feb. 25), is the youngest cub on the 40-man roster. Starlin Castro, 22, whose birthday is March 24th, will likely remain the youngest player on the opening day roster.
As for the oldest player in the Cubs’ organization? It’s the soon-to-be, 38-year-old Hisanori Takahashi (April 2, 1975). The left-handed reliever was signed this winter to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.
As for the current 40-man roster, however, it’s 37-year-old Shawn Camp (Nov. 18, 1975) who takes the Grey Beard Award. He’s roughly two months older than Alfonso Soriano, who was born on Jan. 7, 1976.
Seattle is tied with the Cubs for the fifth youngest roster, preceded by the Mets (26.4), Indians (26.3), Marlins (26.2) and Astros (25.7).
Interestingly, the oldest team in the league is the one with the highest payroll, the Dodgers, at 28.6. Former Cub, Ted Lilly, is the oldest player on their roster at 37-years-old.
Of course it’s possible the Cubs can make a push for the youngest team in the league by season’s end, if we see the departures of ageing veterans via trade such as Camp, Soriano, David DeJesus, Scott Hairston and Carlos Marmol.
The Cubs offered Starlin Castro a 7-year, $60 million contract extension because of his potential to become one of the game’s premier shortstops.
By accepting that offer Castro essentially signed away any and all excuses for his many in-game mental lapses over the past 2.5 seasons.
That’s a huge change for a kid who’s largely been given a free pass on mental gaffes because of his youth, inexperience and talent.
If the Cubs didn’t think Castro’s mental makeup was capable of maturing they wouldn’t have offered the deal. But it does require some growing-up from Castro this offseason to prove Team Theo right.
Starlin turns 23 in March. He’s still a young man, even by baseball standards. But expecting Castro to keep his head in the game for 9-innings isn’t too much to ask. That’s part of being a professional and unquestionably comes with signing a big-boy contract.
Castro’s mental makeup will be of chief concern if his inability to stay focused isn’t improved upon in 2013. It’s unlikely he would remain a core piece of the rebuild, let alone live up to his hefty contract.
Inevitable, the Cubs would have to come to terms with trading Starlin to a team more lenient with the development of his mental game. Even this long-range rebuild can’t wait for everybody.
The hope of course is Castro’s physical game simply matured sooner than his mental one, which isn’t so unusual for a male in his early 20s. But when you’re being paid the money Starlin is, the grace period for mental miscues is quickly eliminated once you’ve signed the dotted line.
Sometimes growing up is hard to do. In Castro’s case, it’s the one thing he has to do.
So much for the Cubs ending the season on a high note. Not even a win this afternoon can erase the embarrassment (and make no mistake, that’s what this is) of being shutout in consecutive home games against the major’s worst team.
As quickly as I acknowledge on Monday that the Astros would be the one team we could expect the Cubs to sweep to finish the season, I failed to mention the Cubs are equally the one club Houston could sweep to end the year–and it could very well happen with the Astros having won the first 2 games.
And over those last 2 games the Cubs have collected all of 6 hits, struck out 19-times and committed more errors (2) than runs scored (0).
Starlin’s 27th miscue of the season are two fewer than he had last season (29).
Not a good night for Alberto Cabrera (1-1, 5.48): 0.1 inning, 2 walks, 1 error, a wild pitch and 1 run allowed.
This was easily Chris Volstad’s (3-12, 6.31) best start of the season: 7.0 innings, 1 ER, 5 H, 6 K and no walks on 92-pitches. It’s too little, too late if you ask me. And I’d be disappointed if he’s back next spring, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is, either. This club has zero starting pitching depth.
I made my final appearance of the season at Wrigley last night. Obviously, I’m pretty bummed the Cubs couldn’t come up with a better effort than what they showed. It’s going to be another long winter waiting for Opening Day with mixed emotions about the relief of this dreadful season coming to a close and the void of not having baseball on a regular basis. So here’s to Year 2 of the Rebuild.
I’d like to think Starlin Castro’s more patient plate approach has helped increase his power numbers this season, and maybe it has, but it’s also worth remembering the 22-year-old is just beginning to fill out his 6’0″, 190 lbs frame.
If Castro continues to mature physically over the next year or two, we might be looking at a guy who could hit 25-plus home runs per season, which would help put Starlin among the elite offensive shortstops in the game.
His solo HR to deep centerfield at Colorado last night gives him 14 long balls on the season–a career-high. It’s also the fourth best HR total among all MLB shortstops, with the Nationals’ Ian Desmond leading the way with 24 home runs.
Meanwhile, Castro’s .756 OPS ranks fifth best among all shortstops while his 77 RBI ranks first.
In addition, Starlin is the first Cub since Sammy Sosa in 1995 to record 25 stolen bases and 75 or more RBI. He also leads the club in multi-hit games (48) and has reached base safely in 122 of his 154-games played.
The fact Starlin amassed 500 career hits before his 23rd birthday only confirms what a natural talent Castro is with the bat. And it’s exciting to imagine what a finely tuned plate approach and a bigger body might turn this kid into in the coming seasons.
As frustrating as Castro can be at times, especially on defense, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves this is a special, special player the Cubs have locked-up long-term (seven-years with the option for an eighth).
Of course, sky-high potential brings sky-high expectations. Whether or not Starlin can deliver, I don’t know. But right now I wouldn’t bet against him.
This is a Guest Post by John Guminski. He’s a Junior at the University of Missouri majoring in Journalism.
Theo and Jed got their man. The dynamic duo locked Starlin Castro up long-term with a reported 7-year, $60M deal representing the Cubs’ first major financial commitment to its rebuilding efforts.
Castro’s been a prized possession since joining the club in May of 2010. He’s made two All Star appearances, led the National League in hits last season (207) and is a veteran player at just 22-years-old.
The team-friendly deal buys out Castro’s remaining four arbitration years, and his three free-agents seasons. There’s also an option year that could keep Starlin in Cubbie blue into his 30s.
The deal averages out to $8.57M per season, and when included with the Cubs’ 2013 payroll, projects out to a very flexible team salary of $44.4M dollars.
Key guys remain unsigned for next season such as Jeff Samardziija, Matt Garza, and Darwin Barney. But it’s a far cry from the 2010 payroll of more than $144M that forced Theo to dump higher-priced talent in order to return the club from the stratosphere in terms of player salary, at least for the time being.
The long-term commitment to Castro shows how much the Cubs believe Starlin is worth building around. It seems obvious when looking at the overall quality of players on the current roster, but it is encouraging to see a dollar amount reinforce the belief Starlin will be a cornerstone piece for the foreseeable future.
If, of course, that opinion sours the Cubs will be well within their right to trade Castro. The deal is void of any partial or full no-trade clauses.
That wouldn’t appear to be part of the plan, but there’s no ignoring plenty of Starlin’s game needs further developing, beginning with nurturing the young shortstop’s maturity both on and off the field.
Otherwise, he’s hit the ball out of the park more this year despite his doubles being halved (36,18) while his OPS (.720) and OPS+ (97) have both sank to career lows. His overall fielding has improved with only 21 errors on the way to his personal best .966 fielding percentage.
Team Theo obviously believes Castro will keep trending upwards as he nears his peak years, which is all part of the long-term rebuilding plans on the North Side.
It’s a fresh approach for a team long overdue on developing its young talent from within. Starlin, we hope, is just the first of many building blocks yet to come.
I’ve always been in favor of the Cubs building around Starlin Castro, which is why I’m thrilled the team is close to locking him up with a long-term contract extension: 7-yr, $60M.
I’m not blind to Castro’s faults. His mental gaffes are extremely concerning. His fielding needs to improve, as does his plate discipline. Both have been better this season, but there’s significant progress left to be achieved in both areas.
However, for a kid who’s sparkled since his major league debut, Starlin is about as close to a sure-thing as you’ll find on a Cubs roster fit for a 100-loss season. And that’s exactly what the Cubs need to build around–not trade away–in the coming years.
WHO ELSE CAN THE CUBS COUNT ON?
While Anthony Rizzo appears poised to reach the level of success Castro has, we’ve yet to see him play a full major league season. Bryan LaHair, unfortunately, fizzled out in late May. Darwin Barney appears to be a very good, but not great player at second base. Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo…who knows how these guys pan out?
Meanwhile, in a few short weeks Castro will have nearly three full seasons under his belt at age 22. That alone speaks to his natural talent.
He’s already made two All Star appearances, led the league in hits in 2011 (207) and shows all the signs of becoming a super-star player.
Castro, for better or worse, is the face of the Cubs franchise. Or perhaps better said, the face of the Cubs rebuild. Why wouldn’t you lock Castro up long-term?
A SMART DEAL FOR BOTH PARTIES
The reported deal buys out Castro’s four arbitration years and his three free agents years. If all goes as planned there’s even an option year for the 2020 season for $16M.
Additionally, Team Theo’s ‘no-trade’ policy is just one of several important factors in Starlin’s new deal.
1.) It relieves any unnecessary pressure off Castro to perform under looming contract negotiations.
2.) Paying Starlin now is likely to save the Cubs money in the long run, especially if Starlin exceeds his potential.
3.) If Castro doesn’t achieve his potential, or sours on the Cubs front office, they’ll be in a strong position to trade Castro right as he’s coming into his prime years.
A deal beneficial for both sides is always the best kind. And with so little to be sure of in the coming seasons on the North Side, it’s the smart move for Team Theo and Starlin Castro.
Last Monday the Cubs posted its most runs scored in a single game this season defeating the Pirates 14-4 at Wrigley Field.
It’s also the last time the Cubs won a game, and the lack of offense has largely been the deciding factor.
The Cubs have been outscored 38-16 during its seven-game losing streak. Twice they’ve been shutout, twice they’ve scored one single run, and had it not been for Adrian Cardenas, it’s highly likely AJ Burnett no-hits the Cubs last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the highly touted Brett Jackson has done nothing but reinforce the worry he strikes out too often (he did so 33% of the time in Iowa) by punching out 8 times in 11 at-bats since his callup Sunday. Josh Vitters hasn’t been much better: 1-for-6 with a double and 2 RBI.
Castro and LaHair, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, continue to struggle going a combined 0-for-7 with one walk and one strikeout last night in San Diego. And Anthony Rizzo posted another no-hit night (0-for-4) dropping his average below .300 (.292).
The west coast road trip can’t end soon enough. The Cubs are (8-13) vs. NL West opponents this year, and all eight wins have come at home.
However, it doesn’t get any easier after today’s series finale at San Diego–the red hot Cincinnati Reds come to town for a four-game set.
Maybe a little home cookin’ is just what the Cubs need to get back on track at the plate?
It recently struck me many of my long-time favorite Cubs are no longer Cubs.
Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster: all gone. Reed Johnson: gone. Carlos Pena, albeit his short stay: gone. Heck, even Sweet Lou: gone.
I’ve grown to like Alfonso Soriano a little more each season, but he’s never been one of my favorites. And there’s not much else to choose from as far as tenure is concerned.
SO WHO IS MY FAVORITE CUBS PLAYER?
David DeJesus is a strong candidate. He’s always been a player who caught my eye, even before joining Chicago this offseason. I appreciate his game, his hustle, his professionalism, but chances are he’s gone by next July’s trade deadline or following the season.
The same can be said for Matt Garza.
Starlin Castro has been a lightning rod among Cubs fans–some want him traded, others want to him stay. I tend to side with the ‘keepers’ and think the Cubs should build around him.
Sure, I like Castro enough, think he’s a legit ballplayer, but not sure he’s a favorite just yet. He at least needs to clean up the mental errors for a start. (Who doesn’t hate mental errors?)
Bryan LaHair was a suitor until, well, he stopped hitting. Carlos Marmol? Dude just drives me insane.
It seems I’ll need to spend the latter half of the season determining who’s my next favorite Cubs player.
Who’s going to be the guy I can count on, the guy who sticks around long enough to see the rebuild through, and help lead our beloved Cubs back to glory?
Of course Anthony Rizzo is a clear favorite. Maybe Travis Wood, too. I’ve always had a soft spot for crafty lefties (I miss you Ted Lilly). Or is it time I switch to a power-throwing right-arm the likes of Jeff Samardzija?
What about Dale Sveum?
Maybe it’s a Brett Jackson or Josh Vitters who catches my eye? Perhaps Jorge Solar steals my heart? I have no idea.
It’s hard to ignore the offensive struggles of Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair and Tony Campana.
Despite adopting a more disciplined plate approach since the firing of Rudy Jaramillo, which should help in the long run, Castro hasn’t been the same batter that led the NL in hits last season (207).
That doesn’t mean Starlin won’t break out of his funk before season’s end, but we can expect Castro to put together some better quality at-bats. Not to mention, this kid is so super-talented it’s only a matter of time before he settles back into being the Cubs’ premier hitter in the lineup.
Surviving the trade deadline should’ve been LaHair’s golden opportunity to be an everyday player for the Cubs in the season’s second half. Instead, Team Theo opted to promote Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.
The roster move is certain to leave LaHair riding the pine as a role player until he makes the needed adjustments to return to his brilliant hot start to the season, one that earned him All Star honors.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for LaHair is regaining his confidence. It’s vanished over his last 100 at-bats. He looks lost, over-matched and generally defeated at the dish.
Not even Tony Campana can outrun the slump-bug, which is why he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to make room for the arrivals of Jackson & Vitters.
Aside from being a cute base stealing threat, Campana expectedly fell back to earth after his hot start in April.
It’s clearly evident Campana is over-matched by big league pitching–and has been all year. He rarely puts together quality at-bats and what little success Campana has had this season has been fleeting at best.
Both he and the Cubs are best served getting the scrappy lefty more playing time in Iowa vs. sitting the bench on a team with zero need for a pinch-runner.