Has Starlin Castro Earned $60 Million Yet?

First thing's first: Starlin Castro's supposed seven-year contract with the Chicago Cubs is not a done deal. Not according to Castro's agent. From The Chicago Tribune:

Kinzer told the Tribune he and the Cubs are "a little bit" closer to a Castro deal than they were a couple of days ago.

"But we still have a few days to get this finished off, and that's if everything goes well," he said. "It could still blow up. It's ongoing. We don't have a formal contract. I'm on a beach down in Florida and I saw (the report) scrolling. How could anyone go with that without it being confirmed?"

Cubs President Theo Epstein also confirmed that a deal's being discussed, but hasn't been finalized.

Sure sounds a lot like something's going to get done soon, though. And not a little something. A big something: a seven-year, ~$60-million deal that would lock up the Cubs' young shortstop through 2019.

But would such a deal make sense for the Cubs? The obvious answer: Of course it would and I'm surprised you even asked that question you silly nincompoop.

Hardball Talk's Matthew Poullot think it's a good question, though. Before that $60-million figure floated, Poullot wasn't sure Castro's a bargain at $45 million. So I will guess that $60 million won't sit so well with Poullot.

His rationale? Castro's not yet a star, and seems to be regressing:

The fact that Castro has yet to become a star at age 22 isn’t damning in itself. But the lack of development is. Castro’s walk rate is down and his strikeout rate is up this year. He’s hitting just .276 after coming in at .300 and .307 in his first two seasons. His homers are up, but his doubles are way down. He’s still a lousy basestealer for all of his speed. His defense has improved, and he’s cut back on the mental errors in the field, but he still makes more than most.

The last thing the Cubs need is a complacent Castro. They need him motivated to become the very best player he can be, and handing him $45 million now seems a pretty lousy way to accomplish that.

Statistically speaking, Castro's regressed some this season but not a lot. Essentially, this season he's been the same as in his first two seasons: National League-average. And of course a league-average hitter who plays shortstop is a mighty valuable property. The fact is that Castro, the Starlin Castro that we've seen for nearly three seasons, is a $12-million player. If the Cubs can get him for roughly $9 million per season for seven years, that would seem like a good thing.

But of course he probably won't be a $9-million player. These guys aren't that predictable. There's a chance he won't be that good, even considering general salary inflation that's sure to come. There's a much larger chance that he'll be worth more than $9 million per season.

But of course the Cubs would like Castro to be worth a lot more than $9 million per season, regardless of what they're paying him. And it might be at least somewhat troubling that he's not improved this season, at just 22.

Then again, it's just one season. Castro was better at 21 than at 20. It would be lovely if players got better every season until they peaked, but they're not machines and statistics don't work that way, anyway. Castro's hitting's been worse this season, but his fielding's been better. Unless he really has a pronounced tendency toward complacency, he should generally improve over the next five or six seasons. There will be fits and starts and little hobgoblins of inconsistency. But if he's healthy, Starlin Castro should be a better player at 26 and 27 than he was at 21 and 22.

If he really wants to be. We don't know, can't really know, what Castro really wants. But Theo Epstein is supposed to know. That's why he has a five-year, $18.5-million contract.

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