WASHINGTON — Should Starlin Castro be looking over his shoulder?
There were rumblings the Cubs could put their franchise shortstop on the block after trading for hotshot prospect Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal with the Oakland A’s.
It doesn’t bother Castro, who’s been fending off challengers ever since he signed with the organization as a teenager in the Dominican Republic. He’s still only 24 years old, back performing at an All-Star level and locked up with a reasonable contract that could run through 2020.
“That’s baseball. That’s business,” Castro said Saturday at Nationals Park. “One day, those guys are coming up here and we’ll play together, no matter how or where.”
The night before, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein reached out to Paul Kinzer, wanting to reassure Castro’s representative that his client is still part of The Plan.
“I already communicated with Starlin’s agent that we are ecstatic about the way he’s playing and about his development,” Epstein said. “We’re proud of him. It’s not easy to bounce back from the year he had last year, but he has bounced back in a big way and is playing at an elite level. He’s a centerpiece-type guy for this organization.”
[MORE CUBS: Cubs-A's trade: Who is Addison Russell?]
By adding Russell, a 20-year-old shortstop who will report to Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs keep collecting players from Baseball America’s Top 100 list heading into this season: three of the top 14, six of the top 41, and eight overall.
“A lot of great talent,” Castro said. “They know what they’re doing.”
That group includes Triple-A Iowa shortstop Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, who’s already moved from shortstop to second base and center field, playing like he deserves a promotion from Des Moines.
“You can never have too many shortstops,” Epstein said. “They end up all over the field.”
The A’s made Russell the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla. He played with Cubs prospects Kris Bryant and Albert Almora in the Arizona Fall League and has recovered from the hamstring injury that sidelined him earlier this season.
“It’s OK,” Castro said. “I don’t put that in my mind. I just keep playing hard in here, and whatever happens, happens.”
Castro keeps evolving, entering Saturday hitting .290 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs, which depending on your perspective could make him a foundation piece or a sell-high candidate.
“It’s hard to find shortstops who swing the bat the way he does,” Epstein said. “He’s taken a step forward with his defense this year as well. So Starlin’s another guy who’s athletic enough and has enough tools to, I think, play a couple different spots on the diamond. But I don’t foresee that any time in the near future.
“He’s a weapon at shortstop. He’s hitting right in the middle of our order and doing a fantastic job. I think he’s an All-Star, and this trade had nothing to do with Starlin Castro. This had everything to do with acquiring impact young talent.”
Big picture, the Cubs will have options if they want to trade for a big bat or a No. 1 starter — and Castro doesn’t look like the kid who appeared to be lost at the plate last season.
“I’m back,” Castro said. “I’m playing a lot better baseball. I think the (struggles) last year helped me a lot for this year. It made my mind strong.”