Starlin Castro makes a lot of errors.
A man’s defensive ability is not judged by errors, alone, and, indeed, errors are probably a poor measure of defense, overall. But, when you reach the kind of extremes that Castro did last year – and has so far this year – it starts to matter. Don’t take that as an overt criticism of Castro or his defense. As I’ll discuss in a moment, there’s still a great deal of good there.
But, given his struggles, and his expected future (much later in his career, that is) at another position anyway, the calls to move Castro now are becoming louder and more reasonable. From Dave Kaplan, last week:
Castro is a tremendous talent but his defense is far behind his offense and he appears to lack concentration in the field, which is evident in the simple throwing mistakes he has made over the first week-and-a-half of the 2012 season. His bat will be the facet of his game that makes him a star, so why not move him now on a team that does not appear to be a contender?
Darwin Barney is a natural shortstop and would give the Cubs better defense there than Castro does, including better concentration on the routine plays that Castro often makes a mistake on. Castro is an excellent athlete and could make the move to the OF much like Robin Yount did during his stellar career in Milwaukee.
Whether the move comes now or next winter, I believe it is in the Cubs’ best interest to put Castro in a position where he can use his athleticism defensively while he continues to develop into a run-producing hitter who will eventually be one of the best hitters in baseball. However, his defense keeps him from becoming a truly elite player at his position.
It’s a perfectly fair discussion, but I land on the other side of the coin. There are two primary hurdles to moving Castro off of shortstop, and each, alone, is reason enough for me to squash this talk for the foreseeable future.
First, we have to remember that, at 22, Castro’s upside defensively at shortstop remains quite high. Most 22-year-old shortstop are busy piling up huge error totals in A and AA ball. Castro just happens to be doing it in the bigs. Castro has above-average range, and a strong arm. If he didn’t keep making mistakes, he’d be the kind of guy you’d love to have manning shortstop. There is still time for him to become that kind of guy.
Second, Castro’s value at shortstop is almost immeasurably higher than it would be at second base, or, especially, in the outfield. Castro’s offensive ability at shortstop – particularly his upside – is truly elite. It is fully within his grasp to become the best offensive shortstop in baseball. Were he playing in a corner outfield spot (remember, Brett Jackson is ticketed for center field in short order), the Cubs would be hurting themselves twice: their offensive ability at shortstop drops dramatically, and Castro’s offense, while great for shortstop, might be little more than average in left field.
Yes, it can reasonably be argued that the 2012 Cubs are slightly better, for example, with Darwin Barney at shortstop and Starlin Castro at second base (assuming a quick transition between spots was realistic mid-season). I’m not sure I agree, but I’ll credit the argument.
But what about 2013 and beyond? Just as it would be foolish for the Cubs to make roster moves for mere short-term improvements, it would be foolish to change the course of a 22-year-old star shortstop’s long-term future to net short-term (theoretical) gains.
It’s a worthwhile discussion to have, and, with each additional error, the future of Castro’s position becomes more and more in doubt. For now, he should remain at shortstop.