Cubs: Starlin Castro, and the future of the franchise

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Cubs: Starlin Castro, and the future of the franchise

PITTSBURGH There will come a time where the narrative will shift from what Starlin Castro could become to what he hasnt done yet.

Fair or not, thats just the game of expectations. At the age of 22, Castro has already put up two .300 seasons, played in the All-Star Game and led the National League in hits.

The Cubs marketing department had already put Castro up on billboards by the time Theo Epsteins front office inherited what may be a franchise shortstop to build their team around.

But people will want more, and expect to see a power surge and better defensive focus, even though Castro is already pretty, pretty good.

Ready or not, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said back in spring training that it was time to commit to Castro as the No. 3 hitter, for the future of the franchise.

By Friday, the Cubs were on a nine-game losing streak and had scored in four of their last 47 innings. Sveum responded by moving Castro to the No. 2 spot and signaling that Joe Mather will get an extended look hitting third and playing center field.

Its time, Sveum said. (Its) the combination of not really scoring throughout the whole season and Mathers been as good as anybody swinging the bat. Its going to give him a little opportunity to see what he can do.

I told Castro: Its not a demotion. Its just more shaking the team up. He was great about it (and said): Hey, I just want to win. I dont care where I hit in the lineup.

Thats an essential part of Castros personality: Nothing seems to faze him.

Just how high is Castros ceiling? That will be a central question as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer try to lay the foundation for sustained success.

Castro entered Friday hitting .313 with two homers and 25 RBI, which was tied for third in the majors among middle infielders. Clearly, he can provide offense at a premium position.

But if the Cubs are going to mirror those Boston Red Sox teams that would grind out at-bats and play four-hour games, then Castro will have to improve his .323 on-base percentage. He has walked once in the past six weeks.

Does Castro profile as a No. 3 hitter for the future?

He hasnt done anything (wrong), Sveum said. Hes hitting .350 with men in scoring position. Hes hitting over .300. Thats pretty good out of the third spot. You might want more home runs.

But you take some of those balls he hit with the wind howling in, you could still have five or six home runs. Theres nothing hes done to be put down to the two spot. Its just more something to change to get everything going.

Sveum kept talking, using a Lou Piniella line from a few years ago: You never know, sometimes you pick a lineup out of a hat and you win. I wasnt going to go that far but

Castro has already played for three different managers. Hes done it in a big market playing for a marquee team (in fifth place). It would be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure of a pennant race, how he performs with a better supporting cast.

But before we get to that point, Year 3 in the big leagues could say a lot about the rest of Castros career.

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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