By inking Starlin Castro to a seven-year contract, the Chicago Cubs have made it clear that the young infielder is one of the key building blocks in the urban renewal project the team is facing once this season mercifully ends. It probably wouldn’t behoove Castro to make many close friends amongst the current group of players because almost none of them are going to be around by the time the end of his contract rolls around.
Before this season began we all knew the Cubs were bad. Even Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, the eternal optimist, had to know it. Certainly new team president Theo Epstein knew it. But Epstein is a show-me guy and besides there was only so much he could do immediately on his new job. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the Cubs be. Indeed, you’ve got to wonder how many more years it will take to make the Cubs a contender.
The Cubs are like a fourth world country with so many desperate needs you don’t know where to begin to fix things. (And they’re still better than the Astros, who if they were a country would be Haiti).
Epstein is the all-time hero executive in Boston who presided over the Red Sox World Series titles of 2004 and 2007, all of New England’s impossible dream. The Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series since 1918 and the phrase “long-suffering” as applied to fans had pretty much originated in Boston. Unless it was borrowed from Chicago. Cubs fans are still long-suffering. The last time the Cubs won a World Series was 1908. Or as one wag put it a few years ago, “Anyone can have a bad century.” The problem is that the Cubs are into their second bad century in a row.
Clearly, Epstein relishes a challenge. Hey, who wouldn’t want to be the guy who put the Cubs out of their misery after putting the Red Sox out of their misery? If the Cubs win a World Series on Epstein’s watch he will one day wake up and find out that two devoted baseball communities have built statues to honor his acumen. One down, but at the moment the second such accomplishment still resides in fantasy baseball.
Going into Wednesday’s play the Cubs are 49-79, the second worst record in baseball (Thank you, Astros). In recent months the Cubs have lost, or purposely shed, some of their better players, starting with Aramis Ramirez exiting as a free agent and then trading off pitcher Ryan Dempster.
Castro has been Chicago’s starting shortstop for three seasons, or since he was 20. He hit over .300 his first two years and even though he is at .276 this season the Cubs decided he was a keeper worth $60 million in the coming years. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer admitted that this signing signifies the team thinks of Castro as one of its “young core” members.
This makes Castro the first untouchable on the Cubs’ current roster. They will probably want to keep first baseman Anthony Rizzo, 23, and pitcher Jeff Samardzija, but that’s probably because they can’t turn over the entire roster all at once and it doesn’t mean they’ll be around in three years. The team has done a dramatic job of shedding payroll already with at least 10 players on the Major League roster making only around $500,000 apiece. The two out-sized salaries remaining belong to reliever Carlos Marmol ($7.3 million) and outfielder Alfonso Soriano ($17 million-to-$19 million depending on the source). Boy, do the Cubs want to move Soriano. They would throw in all of the deep-dish pizza in the world if someone would make a deal.
Once the season ends, the Cubs are going to be a hyperactive players in the market, dumping numerous players and trying to round up some good friends for Castro to play with in the Wrigley Field sandbox with the money they’ve been saving.