McKnight: For now, is Castro move that big a plus?

  • Benching shortstop Starlin Castro might help the Cubs in the field, but it doesn't do much to change things for the team offensively, at least not right now.

    Benching shortstop Starlin Castro might help the Cubs in the field, but it doesn't do much to change things for the team offensively, at least not right now. Associated Press

 
Updated 8/10/2015 9:31 AM

Starlin Castro's long-term future has been a subject of debate since the moment Tom Ricketts hired Theo Epstein. Even in his best season, when he hit .307/.341/.432 in 2011, you could see the rough edges Epstein was about to try to round off.

With his lack of plate discipline, his groundball tendency or simply his questionable attention span at short, Castro was at best a jewel in need of polishing. At worst, well, you might be watching the worst.

 

Change! Change, they yell from the bleachers to the balcony.

The problem is, with the Cubs committing to their core of young talent for the 2015 season, there's not much change to be had.

The most popular call is for Addison Russell to move over to short. Russell, rated by most scouts to be a better shortstop than Castro even before the former's promotion to the major-league roster, would give the Cubs better defense. There's little debating that point.

At worst, the range and arm of both players would be about the same level. Call that a wash.

It could be addition by subtraction, however. Cubs fans have seen (and felt and cringed and wretched and cursed) Castro's mental lapses in the field. Almost assuredly, Russell can't repeat those.

So while Russell to shortstop might calm the nerves of Cubs fans (and perhaps even manager Joe Maddon, though he'd never admit it) it doesn't fix much offensively.

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Russell had a fine little run (.273/.351/.424) in 10 games after the all-star break. In the next stretch (nine games between July 28 and Aug. 8) Russell hit .200/.250/.267.

Russell is young. One of the youngest players in the bigs. There's no reason to add the pressure of playing shortstop on a playoff contender to his inexperience at the plate -- especially when it doesn't net much in the overall.

Javier Baez could be a playing-time contender as the Cubs near September. Baez, who has been raking since coming back from injury just a few weeks ago, drew rave reviews from Maddon about his defense during spring training. Owning an OPS over .950 in AAA this season doesn't hurt either.

The swing-and-miss always will be part of Baez's profile at the plate, but while Castro's OPS sits well under .600 for the season, last in all qualified shortstops this year, it's fair to wonder what a bat with those holes could do.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The wild card here is a wily veteran addition. The Cubs are being active on waiver claims and it's worth wondering if older, big-money shortstops (think Jimmy Rollins or even Alexei Ramirez) would be worth fliers if their clubs would let them go cheap.

As the roster stands, there isn't a better option for Maddon's middle infield. He's got to stick it out.

Perhaps the cavalry arrives in the form of a veteran add. Perhaps Baez makes a September push and forces a decision.

Until then, Maddon's August looks like it will come with a heavy dose of Starlin Castro.

• Connor McKnight can be heard regularly on WGN 720-AM and is a co-host of The Beat, the station's sports talk show on the weekends. Follow him on Twitter @McKnight_WGN

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