LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Cubs expect to see a better, faster, stronger version of Starlin Castro next season.
Castro’s name will probably be thrown out there at some point during the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. That’s just the nature of the 24/7 news cycle driven by Twitter and all the lobby buzz at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.
But the Cubs still plan to build around Castro, who’s been back home in the Dominican Republic working out with strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss, trying to reshape his body and rediscover what made him an All-Star shortstop.
“We’ve always gotten hits on him,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday. “People see him as a guy who was one of the best young players in the game a couple years ago and he still has all that talent. He had a down year, so people are always going to inquire about him. I don’t expect that to change.
“Listen, we’re excited to have Starlin. We obviously gave him a significant contract because we believe in him. We still believe in him.”
Castro still has time to live up to that seven-year, $60 million deal that contains a club option for 2020. He will turn 24 one week before Opening Day and might have gotten a little soft. But team officials don’t doubt his work ethic. They know he cares.
“He plays every single day, which is a great thing,” Hoyer said. “But I think if you’re going to be able to do that, you have to be in really unbelievable shape. We felt like there’s no reason he can’t be a little bit faster and can’t have even more range.
“He’s at that age (where) he should start to put on a little bit of that — for lack of a better term — ‘man-strength.’ He’s not a young player anymore. He was a college-age kid when he came up, and I think he can start to put on that muscle mass now.
“Maybe that does improve his speed, his range, his power. It’s something he wanted to do, and we certainly encouraged it.”
How Castro responds will be telling. He tried to absorb the messages from the front office and the coaching staff and wound up hitting .245 with a .631 OPS that ranked 15th out of the 17 qualified big-league shortstops.
Castro had never struggled like this before on any level, and that regression became part of the case against fired manager Dale Sveum. The Cubs hope new manager Rick Renteria and his positive, bilingual message will sink in with Castro.
Two months before the Cubs report to Arizona, their franchise shortstop is already starring in those best-shape-of-his-life comeback stories.
“I think he was frustrated by his season,” Hoyer said. “I would be very surprised if he didn’t show up in spring training in really good shape and ready to go. I hope we look back on last year four or five years from now as a good learning experience for him — a wake-up call if you will.”