While Starlin Castro’s status in the present seems to be on shaky grounds, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein says Castro is still a part of the team’s future.
Castro turned out to be the odd-man-out of the Cubs line-up during the team’s series against the Giants. On Friday, manager Joe Maddon let it be known that Castro wasn’t simply just getting a day off and that the situation dictated this kind of move. It is change that seemingly has come with Epstein’s full support.
“The position that we’re in, the manager has to have the unfettered ability to put the team on the field every single game, every single inning that he thinks puts the club in the best position to win,” Epstein said, per CSN. “This isn’t a permanent thing or anything like that. It’s just a recognition of where we are in the standings, how many good options I think we have with the players we have returning now and it’s a nod to Joe’s ability to push the right buttons to put the best lineup on the field on any given night.”
In a season full of moves that suggested the Cubs were going for something more than development of young prospects — whether it was the call-ups of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, the ever-changing status of the closer, the acquisition of Dan Haren to round out the rotation — Friday’s move is the latest to show the Cubs’ win-now mentality. Admittedly, it can be jarring after three seasons in which the front office was — for lack of a better term — punting for the future.
While each game is valuable, the later we get into the season, the fewer games there will be left on the schedule to make an impact. The Cubs are heading into a high-leverage portion of their schedule and are simply attempting to put themselves in the best chance to win the games, even if it comes with more frequently sitting a player of Castro’s profile.
Naturally, this move brings shock waves as it is the result of a three-time All-Star’s dramatic drop-off in offensive production and a step-back in defensive efficiency.
According to Epstein, Castro can play a significant role in the team’s success moving forward, as the Cubs have already been successful this season without him playing up to the standards he has set by being a three-time All-Star before his age 25 season.
Epstein said Friday: “Certainly, we think he’ll play better baseball going forward than he has the last four months and a week. … Yeah, of course [it’s puzzling] …. A 25-year-old, for as talented as he is, usually gets better and puts up good seasons.”
He also suggested Castro can find himself as part of a match-up game, especially with the moving pieces the team has on the roster: “I think with some of the pieces we have coming back (from DL) and the way [Kyle] Schwarber is swinging the bat, there are going to be a lot of options for [Joe Maddon] and he just has to be able to play the match-ups, play the hot hand, and put the best team on the field.”
All in all, it comes down to the manager making the move and front office being OK with a move that sidelines a player who has four years and approximately $37 million worth of contract guarantees coming to him in the coming seasons.
With that said, Epstein’s ringing endorsement of Maddon on Friday speaks volumes.
“It’s a huge asset to have someone like Joe because he’s not restricted by convention or by fear of how somebody might react to something,” Epstein said, per the Tribune. “He’s not afraid of how the media would react, he’s not afraid of how we would react, he’s not afraid of how the players would react.”
As the Tribune’s Paul Sullivan notes in that article, Castro’s role change will be felt throughout the clubhouse because of his status and popularity among his teammates. But in the end, it will be up to Castro to make the most of the opportunities he gets moving forward to change his fortunes and his perception.