Wondering Who’s Gonna Play Short? Stop

It just wouldn’t be a normal day in Cubdom without questions about the future configuration of the team’s middle infield, a topic that inevitably devolves into Starlin Castro trade rumors. Fox Spots’ Ken Rosenthal got things churning on Thursday when he wrote about the Padres and their continued activity.

San Diego GM A.J. Preller has been the hardest working man in baseball since he took the reins last August and even after several high-profile moves it appears he’s looking for more. While Rosenthal cast doubt on the likelihood of the Pads pursuing Castro, it was his follow-up that piqued interest among Cubs devotees.

But if they acquire a shortstop, I’m guessing it will be a younger, less expensive player than the most obvious names – the CubsStarlin Castro and RangersElvis Andrus.

Much of the recent media speculation centers on Castro, whom the Cubs likely will attempt to move to clear the position for top prospect Addison Russell.

I suppose I should go ahead here and throw out the requisite disclaimer that I’m a noted Castro apologist and that I am not in favor of moving him in a trade to make room for a prospect, even one as highly touted as Russell. Despite the evident warts, I’d much rather hold onto a known commodity than put all my faith in an unproven one.

Does Castro space out from time to time? Yes. Does he boot routine grounders and make the occasional errant throw? Absolutely. But, with the exception of a single season, he’s proven to be a very good hitter who may yet develop a little more power while maintaining an average of .280 or better. And he’s not overpaid.

But as much as I’d like it to be, my opinion means bupkis to the Cubs. Theo Epstein’s views, however, have been known to carry a little weight. I wonder what he thinks about the whole shortstop situation and how it’ll all work out.

“They can play together,” the Cubs president said Thursday. “Is it likely that they all play together and we bring in no one from outside the organization? No. The most likely outcome is that we keep a lot of these guys and we sign a free agent or so over the years and we make a couple trades, too. Big trades. That’s most likely.

“But my point is, when I say they can all play together, that’s a direct answer to the question: ‘What are you going to do with all these shortstops?’ Well, your three shortstops can play second, short and third. And Bryant can play third or either corner. I think Schwarber can catch and Alcantara can play second or he can play center. And Almora can play center when he’s ready.

Sounds good to me. Epstein, along with GM Jed Hoyer, knows that there’s no reason to try and answer a question that hasn’t been asked yet, though I applaud him for essentially doing just that. Well, sort of. What he’s saying here is essentially what many of us have said since Russell was acquired last July.

It’s important to note, however, that while Epstein is saying that it’s possible for all these guys to play together, it’s just not likely. Really, he’s saying that the Cubs are going to continue to move forward along a path that any team would: promotions from within, free agent signings, and trades. Wild stuff, huh?

I think the real takeaway here is that the the Cubs are going to do what they believe is best for the team. Not for Addison Russell. Not for Starlin Castro. Not for the fans who are clamoring for an all-prospect lineup and not for those who want Castro strapped to the first thing smoking out of Chicago.

Maybe Castro stays in Chicago, maybe he gets traded. Maybe he shifts to 2nd or 3rd, maybe he stays at short. Maybe Javier Baez never figures things out at the plate. Maybe Addison Russell doesn’t transition well to the MLB level. I’d rather stick with what we know for sure and cross the maybe bridge when we come to it, though I suppose it’d not longer be a “maybe” situation by then.

Positional prognostication and speculation on shortstop city swaps is fun for a lot of folks though, so I shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. But I just think it’s an exercise in futility to waste any time or effort worrying about it. At the risk of overstating my case here, this is a good problem to have, so let’s just relax and let it play out.

After all, as Epstein himself said, “It’s not like we’re sitting there with five first basemen wondering what the hell we’re going to do with them.”


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