Has Starlin Castro answered all the questions about being the long-term solution at shortstop?
The Cubs will have a lot to think about this winter with Javier Baez, Addison Russell and the war chest they’ve assembled to get pitching, whether it’s through a free-agent megadeal or a blockbuster trade involving their surplus of up-the-middle players.
This discussion would have started Sept. 29, but Castro’s bounce-back season is essentially over after MRIs and X-rays revealed a high ankle sprain. That might be the best-case scenario after Castro slid awkwardly into home plate, grabbed his left knee and slithered in the dirt on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.
“We don’t really have any (questions),” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. “He’s our shortstop and there’s a reason that we have Javy playing second base right now. The nice thing is we have some depth at a position (where) few people have depth. Now our shortstop goes down and we can move Javy over there and feel really comfortable.”
The Cubs had a sinking feeling watching Castro’s left leg get tangled up, forcing him to limp off the field during the first inning of a 7-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Instead of holding a Derrick Rose, franchise-altering press conference, Hoyer sat in the dugout with reporters and framed it as relatively good news.
“We ruled out any fractures, any breaks. No torn ligaments, anything like that,” Hoyer said. “Right now, the prognosis would probably be four weeks to come back. We’re sort of operating under the assumption he’s going to be out for the year.
“We’re not going to shut him down. He’s certainly going to work hard to come back. His mentality right now is that he can beat four weeks and come back.”
That’s Castro, an ironman who wants to go all 162 every season and felt he could play through the injury.
“He’s going to do everything he can,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He was in that hallway (off the dugout) pretty upset when I told him to just go in and get seen by (athletic trainer PJ Mainville). He didn’t want to come out.”
The stunted development of young core players like Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo got manager Dale Sveum fired last year. Castro responded during the offseason by training with strength/conditioning coordinator Tim Buss back home in the Dominican Republic and working out at the IMG Academy in Florida before reporting to spring training.
After a strained hamstring wiped out most of his Cactus League schedule, Castro got ready in time and earned his third All-Star selection, hitting .292 with 14 homers, 65 RBI and a .777 OPS.
“He’s probably done better than most expected or anticipated,” Renteria said. “We give him a lot of credit because he’s had to take it on and (make it) his responsibility to kind of try and change the way people view him.
“He’s dealt with a lot of different things very positively. He’s worked extremely hard. The beginning of the season didn’t start off the way anybody would have wanted (and) he kept grinding. His defense started to get better and his offense continued to take off. He worked himself back into an All-Star role.”
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Castro is still only 24 and remains under club control through 2020, but he seems much older after watching the franchise teardown/rebuild and weathering all the media storms.
With Castro limping and Rizzo sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, the Cubs won’t get to see them playing alongside uber-prospects Baez and Jorge Soler.
“It’s disappointing,” Hoyer said. “There will be a lot of time to see those guys together. We were all excited to see that whole lineup together and see how they produced together.
“Frankly, the way the injury looked (Tuesday) night, I think we all probably had some worse thoughts about the offseason and what that would entail. All things considered, I think this is pretty good news.”