Despite 2013 being only his third full Major League season, Starlin Castro has given fans of the Chicago Cubs, as well as management, plenty of reason to question his future on the Northside.
In his rookie 2010 season, Castro finished fifth in National League rookie-of-the-year voting. The following two years, Castro was elected to the NL All-Star team. 2011, his first full MLB campaign, saw Castro finish at the top of the entire NL with 207 hits, good for fourth best in all of baseball.
Now, Castro appears to be lost at the plate, and his inability to remain focused in the field has not improved a lick.
The 23 year-old is not only showing a lack of improvement, but appears to taking backward steps at this point. Even as a rookie, Castro was more impressive and reliable than he has been in 2013. To be fair, the shortstop's defense as a whole has improved this season, with his .970 fielding percentage and 15 errors to date ranking as the best of his career. Unfortunately, that is where the improvement ends.
Castro played 125 games as a rookie, with a total of 506 plate-appearances. He finished with a .300 average, an on-base percentage of .347, and a .408 slugging percentage. He cracked three homeruns, 31 doubles, and knocked in 41 runs while scoring 53 himself.
Through 123 games and 534 plate-appearances in 2013, the two-time All-Star is batting .242, with a miserable .278 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage sitting at .343. Castro has knocked in only 32 runs, scored only 48, and set a new career-worst, striking out 103 times already this season.
This drastic drop-off in various offensive categories should be alarming. Castro was still a force in the Cubs lineup the past two years, but suddenly in 2013, everything is down. Even while factoring-in Castro's disappointing season, his career season averages are still a .285BA, .323OBP, and a .407SLG, also averaging 62RBI and 77R per season. For those sabermeticians of you out there, Castro's Wins-Above-Replacement (WAR) ratings are as follows: 1.4 (2010), 3.0 (2011) , 3.6 (2012) and a startling -0.4 (2013).
Starlin Castro has always been a better player than this. After yet another huge mental lapse in the field on Sunday, when he allowed a run to score after hanging his head following an out he caught in short left field with the bases loaded, Castro's dedication to mastering his craft must be questioned.
Although he showed signs of offensive improvements over the previous two seasons, his continued habit of committing mental errors defensively has only made this offensive drop-off that much more critical.
With talent in the system seemingly fit to play shortstop, including Javier Baez, the Cubs must decide how valuable Starlin Castro is in this rebuilding process.
If a team is willing to part with high-talent prospects, especially pitchers, in hopes that Castro gets back on track in the next few years, than the Cubs may want to consider parting ways with this young talent.
Of course, perhaps this is just a fluke, and the team needs only to give Castro the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps 2014 will turn out to be another All-Star season for Castro. Perhaps. But if not, and Castro has another miserable season in 2014, no one will want him.
Either path is a gamble. So far, the plan laid out by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer has been promising. Fans of the Chicago Cubs will have to trust that the duo will make the right decision.