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  • Vine Line features an interview with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer this month, and you can see a portion of that interview here. It’s an interesting read. Among his responses, I found his thoughts on Starlin Castro’s struggles this year, as they relate the Cubs’ relatively well-publicized efforts to make him a more patient hitter, to be particularly interesting: “I personally think that line of thought is a little bit overblown. Every young player can improve. He had a great two seasons when he first came up, but I still think for the power that he has to come out, he’s going to have to be able to hit in better counts. To say, ‘Just keep your hands off him, and don’t try to improve him,’ we’re not going to be a championship organization if guys don’t continue to get better and better. Whether he tried to do some things that confused him during the course of the year or not—and he might have—we want all our guys to focus on getting a pitch in the strike zone and looking to drive it. That’s how you become a really good offense.” Hoyer’s right that there’s no sense in not trying to develop better overall hitters, and the possibility of making Castro into a more patient, more slugging version of his 2010-12 self was worth the risk that it wouldn’t take (as it seemed not to last year). The hope, I suppose, is that the only problem was one of messaging, and that can be fixed with a new staff this year.
  • My concern is that Castro just isn’t going to be able to be that guy, and the Cubs might lose the aggressiveness that made him what he was before the approach changes. Castro saw more pitches last year than he ever has before, but he wasn’t able to consistently convert those deeper at bats into situations where he was in a hitter’s count and he forced the pitcher to come into the zone with something he could drive. That’s where a hefty slugging and OBP come from, but it didn’t happen for Castro last year for what was probably a variety of reasons. Historically, he’s been at his best when he simply did the old “see ball, hit ball” approach, which obviously had the byproduct of shortening a lot of his at bats (and making him something contrary to the Cubs’ current hitting philosophy). I won’t pretend to know what’s best for him going forward, but you’d hate to see so much natural talent squandered. Oh, and also, the Cubs kind of need him to be good.
  • The Cubs have released Dave Sappelt (per Matt Eddy), who never got over the hump that held him back from being what it looked like he could have been: a quality right-handed half of an outfield platoon. Sappelt was derostered earlier this year, so the release is not a surprise.
  • It’s been a long, productive year of baseball for Kris Bryant, and he’s going to do some well-deserved resting. Here’s a nice profile from his hometown paper.
  • Patrick Mooney with a take on the Cubs’ radio and TV situations, noting, among many other things, that Doug Glanville is probably not a realistic candidate for the open radio gig.
  • Die hard

    The new mgr and hitting coach first order of business should be to sit down with Castro and review film of his first 2 yrs and assure him that’s the hitter they need.. Then leave him alone thereafter

    • Rebuilding

      Best post you’ve made in awhile Die hard

      • chrisfchi

        I actually agree with this.

    • Diamond Don

      Amen!

  • CubsFanSaxMan

    Everyone on a team is not a star. Castro will no doubt become (is) an above average shortstop at a reasonable contract. If the FO can live with this, keep him. If not, hope he has a good first half in 2014 and make a deal. He is what he is – you are not going to make him someone else. Keeping him or trading him will not make a huge impact either way.

  • Dan G.

    Proof that the tv contract bubble will burst before cubs get their chance to capitalize. Very sad

    http://www.businessinsider.com/cord-cutters-and-the-death-of-tv-2013-11

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Definitely possible. Also possible that cable providers will cling to live sports like grim death, because it could be the last bastion of their big money-makers.

      • Rebuilding

        ^^^^This. Live sports is only going up because its one of the few things that guarantee a dedicated audience that you can pencil in

        • caryatid62

          This is possible. That is, unless the leagues determine that more money can be made by contracting to companies that will stream their content online, rather than through local affiliates. They could circumvent the cable companies entirely if they wanted to, while simultaneously courting companies that have a lot more cash on hand.

          This may be the beginning of that idea: http://seekingalpha.com/article/1749922-googles-potential-acquisition-of-the-nfl-sunday-ticket-could-be-a-game-changer

          • YourResidentJag

            Wow, I didn’t know this. Thanks for the article.

            • caryatid62

              It’s probably more likely with the NFL than MLB, as MLB’s audience skews older in the first place, so they would likely be later to adopt a fully online platform. MLB.tv seems to do the job for now, but as someone who has cut the cord on cable myself, I have to say it’s a little ridiculous that I can’t even pay to stream local Cubs games due to the blackout rules.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            MLB would have to change its territory/blackout approach first – that’s what protects the huge dollars for the teams.

            (Which is why the lawsuits trying to take down the blackout policy, loathsome as it may be, terrify me. If they prevail, it’ll happen before the Cubs can ink their big deal.)

            • caryatid62

              As a general hater in regard to the special treatment sports leagues get in our system, I’d love for the blackout rules to get taken down.

              As a Cubs’ fan, I’d prefer that they stick around a little while, if only to avoid giving the team yet another “woe is us” card to play when they cry poor.

      • anonymous-ly

        Have to be in the camp that thinks that Cable TV media deals will only increase in value over time. People are willing to give up HBO, Showtime, and pay-per-view, but sports fans will NEVER give up their ESPN and favorite sports teams channels. Nobody wants to watch a game after they know the results. That is why Direct TV can charge and arm and leg for their NFL packages and FOX can charge an extra $5-6 per household in California for the Dodgers.

        The new MLB baseball contracts that doubled from $750M to $1.5Billion annually through winning bids by ESPN, TBS and FOX will all be reflected on your 2014 cable bills. There is no doubt in my mind when the Cubs start winning, Chicagoans will gladly pay $5-6 a month on the Cubs channel or Cubs on Fox to watch a winner.

        Now whether the Ricketts will pour any meaningful amount of that money into baseball operations is another discussion.

        • caryatid62

          ESPN absolutely needs to shell out a lot of money for contracts to broadcast games, because without the games themselves, people will not bother to pay to watch Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith shout at each other.

          I’d argue that there will be a tipping point, though, especially as more media-savvy folks have found ways to get around the cable companies to stream their local teams via the internet (either legally or illegally).

          • anonymous-ly

            ESPN is making money hand over fist because of their live sports. There is going to be illegal live streaming in all types of media and the negative effects will apply across the board. However, live sports will be king in the future. It will be the only type of media that is DVR proof and will allow Entertainment Cable channels to continue charging Cable Networks a high fee.

            I expect there will be more media companies investing in sports channels in the near future in order to stay relevant and force Cable Networks to pay a premium for their products. Alas, the consumers will bear the brunt of these costs with higher cable bills. But yes, there will be a percentage that will drop their sports due to rising costs, but the value of packaging a sports team channel in order to charge higher prices to cable networks will only go up IMO.

  • Chris W

    We have a saying in cricket down here in oz – “play your natural game”. Very wise.

    If your natural game isn’t the right fit for the team, well, that is the real problem. You can’t change stuff like this when you’re in the big show without going backwards, possibly a long way and almost always to your eventual detriment. Very rare you find a player whose game remains that malleable this far into their career.

    Castro is definitely a natural see it, hit it guy. You aren’t going to be able to change that in such a ‘natural feel’ player, so you are better off either working out how to use him or trading to get what you really want.

    • Mike F

      Absolutely correct, which is why both Theo and Hoyer comments are so scary. It couldn’t be more clear. People can come and whine about ADD and all the rest, could be true, but what is absolutely clear is Castro has pitch identification problems, WTF kind of term, as most do and his mind doesn’t work as fast as Ted Williams, Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn. He isn’t that kind of intellect. In fact he isn’t even in the same class in terms of intellect as Manny Ramirez. Theo not Sveum went this route in 2012, followed by 2013 and if Castro is here, again in 2014 Theo won’t take no for answer.

      In the end some people are just going to function at the see ball hit the ball level, and people who never stood in the batter’s box and tried to hit even a 90 MPH fastball or slider can sit in an ivory tower, or play with stats, or even start a minor league ranking blog, but they haven’t played the games and are just tinkers and score keepers.

      The only thing that keeps people honest in sports is winning and losing.

  • dAn

    Castro is at his best when he knows (or suspects) a fast ball is coming and he can swing away and put it in play. He is the prototypical first ball fast ball hitter.

    Usually, that first pitch is a fast ball on the outside corner at the knees. For most hitters, it is advantageous to let that pitch go because it’s a “pitcher’s pitch.” For Castro, it’s advantageous to put it in play, because he’s a great low ball hitter and can line that pitch up the middle or over the second baseman’s head.

    Last year, they were telling him to take the first pitch if it was borderline…and he did. That alone probably robbed him of 20-25 hits.

    Most hitters are not like Castro. For most hitters, swinging away at a first pitch FB on the outside black at the knees is just a good way to get yourself out. But for Castro, swinging at that pitch is how he makes his money. His knack for driving that pitch into shallow right-center may be his greatest weapon as a hitter. And they took that weapon away from him last year.

    All in all, Castro is probably not going to become what we once dreamed of. He’s probably just a guy who is going to hit 285/320/420/740 or so, maybe adding a bit more power in his late twenties. But they really, really just need to let him go out there and play his game. And if he doesn’t fit their philosophy, there’s a guy named Baez who will be coming up soon.

    If Castro bounces back, they ought to consider dealing him at the deadline when Baez is ready–because he’s never going to really be an OBP/table-setter type, and he’s never going to be a true RBI guy either. And he’s never going to be an above average defender at short. He’s a guy who is going to give you league average defense at short and a 750 OPS–maybe a bit higher in his prime. That’s a good player, but not a franchise cornerstone. Baez will have more value because he’ll be able to play a key offensive role (that of an RBI guy)–even though he probably won’t be any better than Starlin defensively.

    • Mike F

      Great post completely true. And this obviously doesn’t fit the Theo ology on hitting. I like the Theo approach a lot, but not at the expense of trying to tinker with the core of a hitter. If they continue the experiment, the results are obvious another sub 250 performance and destruction of value. If they leave him alone he probably does exactly what you said. But unless they are going to improve what is clearly the worst offense team in baseball and let he do his own thing, you couldn’t be more correct.

  • Aaron

    Starlin Castro is not a “complete” ballplayer, on either a defensive note nor an offensive one. Bottom line, is he a player that will help you win playoffs games or even a championship 4 years from now? I say no. He’s more than likely will make a key error in the field that will cost you the game, nor does he have the plate discipline to take a walk if we need one, or get a big hit against the other team’s best reliever in the 9th inning. Let’s not kid ourselves of what kind of player Castro really is, and what he means to our team’s long-term success.

  • Die hard

    Starlin Castro plate approach very similar to Roberto Clemente… Worked ok for him

    • Mike F

      Are you freaking kidding me. Roberto Clemente. Ok I get it call him Roberto so you can then say fire Theo for screwing with him.

      Did you ever see Roberto play? I did and his approach to the game compared to Roberto, doesn’t amount to an ass pimple. You are smarter than this…….

  • Mike F

    By that standard there isn’t a single player on the roster who can meet that test except maybe Jeff. With most Cub fans eagerly accepting the postponement of competition even until 2016 at earliest, can you really put that on him? I think it is more correct with this organization and their philosophy he is not a fit and both organization and he are best served by a trade. But I think he can go to a different organization who doesn’t demand what the Cuds are and have several Major League Bats.

    Then again you have plenty of people here arguing the virtue of Barney. The Cubs clearly are worse in terms of bats than have ever been under Hendry, I simply don’t know how the hell they did it and how they can look themselves in the mirror. 2016 isn’t good enough in any universe except in Cub fandom where people want to lecture everyone about patience, Really, a 105 years of futility with a couple of blips of competition and we need to be patient. Hmmmmmmmmm…..

    • Jeff

      We will be accused of being “Trolls” but I whole heartedly agree with you Mike F.

  • Aaron

    The World Series MVP test. Which current Cubs players can you see winning the MVP for the Cubs World Championship? Answer: Yes, you have to think long and hard about the answer since there’s not much quality to choose from. Perhaps Anthony Rizzo or Castilo. Okay, how about from the Cubs’ top prospects? I say Kris Bryant, Javier Baez or Albert Amora.

    Starting this off-season, we need to start adding assets that will get us one step closer to winning, even if it’s only 1 piece at a time. Question becomes…do you see any of the Cubs’ off-season pick-up winning the World Series MVP. If they answer is no, then we will have to wait patiently with the FO and give them another 3 years beyond their initial 5.

  • Mike F

    So do you believe any of the minor league system are can’t miss?

    I like 7 or 8 of the minor leaguers a lot. I think they have improved their system a lot. I have a lot of confidence that some will make a major league roster and at least compete and contribute. I don’t think there is sure fired can’t miss impact prospect though in the bunch. Very good prospects, yes, can’t miss WS contributors no.

  • Jed

    Since we are diagnosing Castro’s problem, I’ll throw in my two cents. Castro is the epitome of a free swinger, by which I mean he pretty makes up his mind to swing at a pitch before he truly even knows what it is and he’s a good enough hitter to adjust to that pitch on the fly. Forcing him to be more patient is causing to second guess himself and delaying his reaction time, cause he’s figuring out the pitch before swinging rather than at the beginning of the swing, a way in which he does not operate well. Personally, this sounds rediciulous, but it also kinda makes sense.

  • bobbyk

    Issues with Castro are fixable. The kid needs a mentor. He seemed to play a lot better when we had some veterans. I think we forget how young he is and expect him to be this mature team leader. Fat chance he becomes the team leader but he still has overwhelming talents to become a top 5 SS. We also have no one in the batting order to protect him or Rizzo. So what exactly should we expect. I guarantee if he were playing on a team with other good hitters he would plat better. Same with Rizzo. Our outfield is projected to be piss poor. Lake will be the best out there and he is a rookie who will eventually serve a reserve role. this is sad

  • Mike F

    And so we continue round 3 of the fix to make Castro all he can be. Don’t get me wrong there’s a lot there I agree with, just if everyone is correct Theo doesn’t buy the put better people around them argument. He is determined to make them the better players they surround with Cubs the who are coming in Theo’s words. Move over J.R. Tolkien….. We all need to watch for the Ones Who Are Coming…. I hope they are and are all he thinks…..

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