Starlin Castro Benched and It’s Not Just a Scheduled Day Off

To say that Starlin Castro is struggling this season would be to call the Tetons a cool set of hills. Up to this point, Joe Maddon has allowed his shortstop to play through the issues in the hopes that he’d eventually course-correct and recover from whatever has been holding him back. But as the season has worn on, it’s become more clear that Castro may have simply lost the edge.

With Miguel Montero coming back off the DL and Kyle Schwarber forcing the Cubs to find a spot for him, Maddon has got some hard decisions to make in terms of what constitutes the best possible lineup and defensive alignment. In the case of Friday’s game, that means David Ross catching with Schwarber in left, Addison Russell at short, and Chris Coghlan at second base. Yes, Chris Coghlan playing the middle infield is a better option than Starlin Castro.

But it’s just for one game, you might say. Oh, but is it?

We just saw how Maddon was willing to yoink Jason Hammel before he had even thrown 80 pitches, thus proving that it’s time to get down to business in search of the postseason. Castro has been on a longer leash, relatively speaking, but it was becoming apparent that the best Cubs lineup was one without his name penciled in. Maybe this is the alarm that finally wakes him up after he’s slapped the snooze button for the last few months.

It had better be if Castro has plans on seeing the field to any significant extent from here on out. From what I understand, there’s a young guy named Javier Baez doing some big things down in Iowa. I hear he plays middle infield too. It’s long been assumed that Russell would be the shortstop of the future, and his stellar defense while learning a new position has reinforced that thought. But that left the question of what to do with Castro.

A resurgent 2014 campaign had the incumbent 6 looking like the best bet to stay there long-term, particularly with Baez starting the season in AAA after an underwhelming stint in Chicago last year. But with Castro slumping at the plate and in the field and Russell’s glove making up for any offensive shortcomings, the door for Baez to come back up at 2B appears to be ajar.

If Baez can live up to even a bit of his monstrous potential, he immediately becomes a better option than Castro. The big swing and light-tower power get all the headlines, but Baez is a superior athlete whose speed and quickness provide value even if the bat never fully develops. To me, that’s the real key here; if asked to choose between the two players, given the possibility that neither ever reaches his potential, Baez is the clear favorite.

And if Baez does approach the cathedral ceiling that is his best-case scenario? Well, then it’s not even close.

Since I’m writing this, I’m sure it’ll mean Castro’s back in the starting lineup tomorrow and for the rest of the season, but I have to think we’re seeing the end of this era in Chicago. At this point I just can’t envision Castro being a part of this team moving forward, a realization that disappoints me to no small degree.

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