NEW YORK – Starlin Castro, “Meet the Mets.”
The New York media immediately started connecting the dots when the Cubs made Addison Russell the centerpiece in the Jeff Samardzija trade with the Oakland A’s. The rebuilding Mets are rich in young pitchers and need a shortstop, while the rebuilding Cubs have a surplus of up-the-middle players.
Let’s make a deal? Castro hadn’t heard about those rumors until reporters surrounded his locker inside Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse before Friday’s 3-2 loss. But the All-Star shortstop doesn’t really care, because his confidence keeps growing and he believes the Cubs are on the verge of doing something special.
“I can’t control that,” Castro said. “We got a lot of shortstops in the minor leagues, but it doesn’t matter, because we’re athletes. We can play wherever in the infield, but they have the decision.”
On a night where 24-year-old right-hander Zack Wheeler shut them down and the Cubs struck out 14 times, Castro went 2-for-4 and notched his 63rd RBI, extending his hitting streak to 14 games.
Castro has fended off challengers before – uber-prospect Javier Baez is a second baseman for now – but he’s not showing it if he ever feels like: What else do I have to prove? Remember this is a three-time All-Star with 830 career hits (and counting) before his 25th birthday.
“I know I can do more than this,” he said. “I’m learning a lot. I’m a man right now. I know a lot more about this game. I think I can keep grinding and have a better season every year.
“I got this talent. I got my mind right. Just be here every day and show who I am.”
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein quickly reached out to Castro’s agent, Paul Kinzer, after the Fourth of July blockbuster to say his client would still be a big part of the organization’s plans.
Castro said: “They told me, don’t even think about this, you’re the shortstop for us right now.”
But it’s not all outside speculation driven by the New York tabloids. There have been rumblings the Cubs are considering moving Castro – possibly as soon as this winter – to acquire the frontline pitching they need (someone like Wheeler).
Castro could handle New York’s bright lights after playing inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.
But Castro – an aggressive swinger with great hand-eye coordination and a knack for hitting pitches outside the strike zone – doesn’t profile like a Sandy Alderson guy. The Mets general manager has instituted a rigid, disciplined, top-down hitting philosophy throughout the organization.
Still, Castro offers a ton of cost-controlled value with five more seasons left on a reasonable $60 million extension he signed in 2012 (which includes a club option for 2020).
“Of course I want to stay here,” Castro said. “I want to be part of the team when we make the playoffs and we have a good team that can compete every year.”
Castro politely listened to the New York reporter asking if he’s willing to change positions if that means staying in Chicago. The shortstop’s on track to post a career-high in fielding percentage (.977), while his errors have declined steadily across the last four seasons, from 29 to 27 to 22 to 12 so far this year.
“I think I showed a lot of people that I can be good at my position,” Castro said. “Again, I don’t have the control (over that). But I think a lot of people see – and a lot of people know – that I can handle that position.”
Russell is Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect. The 20-year-old shortstop is hitting .300 with eight homers and 19 RBI through his first 34 games at Double-A Tennessee. But don’t forget all the ups and downs Castro experienced while trying to adjust to the big leagues.
Castro doesn’t want to look too far into the future, taking the attitude of “whatever happens, happens” and knowing it’s a business. But the longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse can see himself playing with Russell, Baez and Arismendy Alcantara at Wrigley Field.
“Yeah, for sure,” Castro said. “We got a lot of talent out there. And the sooner those guys get here we’ll be better. Because we got great young talent, and the team’s going to be awesome.”