I'm a huge Starlin Castro fan. Not in a Jessica Walters "Play Misty for Me" kind of way, but simply because I think he's a good player who, at age 23, hasn't yet scratched the surface of the kind of player he can be. I think trading him at this stage would be a mistake.
That said, I'm also a huge Javier Baez fan. The problem is they both play shortstop. One of them has to either change positions or (gasp) get moved in a deal. The Cubs haven't had a player with the combination of Baez's talent and productivity tear through to the upper levels since...well, Starlin Castro. They are different kinds of players to be sure, but they are both potential impact players at premium positions. The Cubs could use as many of those as they can get.
But that is still dancing around the question, which is this: Who should play shortstop long term?
My answer may surprise you.
I have said at various points that I believe that while Castro continues to improve, Baez may be the slightly better SS from a defensive standpoint. I'll get into that in a bit. The bigger picture question is whether it's better to move Baez to SS and Castro to another position. Will the Cubs be better off overall? Would Baez make a much better 2B or 3B than Castro would? If so, considering the difference either way at SS isn't that large, is the overall net change a negative?
According to Ken Rosenthal, one rival executive believes Castro would be very good -- even Gold Glove quality -- at 2B. He compared him to Brandon Phillips.
One rival executive suggests a move of Castro to second, where he could be a Brandon Phillips type, offering both plus defense and offense. Javier Baez, after all, is the Cubs’ shortstop of the future.
I don't necessarily disagree and here's why...
On Javier Baez at SS
I think SS is the position that requires the highest possible blend of athleticism and instincts. Neither Baez or Castro are elite athletes, but they are both good athletes and both have good instincts -- but I think Baez's instincts could rate as an 80 if such things were measurable. Jason McLeod spoke of his internal clock and how he instinctually seems to know how much time he has to throw (and how hard he needs to throw) to first. He's a high energy player who is very aware of the game around him. Teammates look up to Baez and he has tremendous leadership potential at a position where that is a desired quality. Physically his range is probably around average and perhaps a bit less than Castro's, but I think the overall package is better with Baez.
On Starlin Castro at 2B
Castro has the physical tools to play SS and he plays the game with fluid athleticism. He has that quality you like to see in a SS in that he flows through the ball and has the good hands and arm to play the position well, though he has been inconsistent in his career. The larger criticism with Castro has been his so-called focus and awareness. He's made his share of mental mistakes, though he has really cut those down in the 2nd half this season. Another concern I have is that there are a lot of close plays with Castro and though he has improved as far as understanding how aggressively he needs to play the ball, it doesn't come as natural to him as it does to Baez. A move to 2B would all but eliminate that issue as Castro would have more time to make the play with the shorter throw to first. I think he can relax and let his physical skills take over at 2B.
On making the switch
I'd make the switch based on the reasons stated above but we're not dealing with strat-o-matic cards here. We're dealing with living, breathing people and you never know what kind of impact a position switch will have on individuals and by extension, the team as a whole. I think the Cubs need to be mindful to maintain a good atmosphere where veterans are respected and not easily cast aside while also balancing that with a move that could improve the team -- even if it's incrementally. Before you think, "Well tough, Castro has to move for the good of the team" think about this: 1) We don't know if it will be best for the team and 2) We should expect Castro to feel exactly how we would feel if we've worked hard for 4 years and did well enough to twice be considered among the best at our position -- and then get unceremoniously "demoted" for the young, unproven upstart who may -- or may not -- be better. Yes, it's business, but it doesn't mean any of us have to like it -- and that includes Castro. Right now the Cubs are approaching this the right way. Castro has put in a lot of work at SS. He worked hard on it in the offseason and he's improved. It will be Baez who will move and I'm hoping that the move is to 2B, where his instincts and feel for the game can be better utilized. Until he's ready, Baez will continue to play SS at Iowa and if there does come a time when a move makes sense, it shouldn't be difficult for him to re-orient himself to the SS position.