Calling up Starlin Castro a good gamble for Cubs

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starlin castro running.jpgAnother team would have waited three weeks. That’s about when a club can call up a top prospect without any service time and not have to worry about him becoming super-two eligible after his second full year in the majors.
The Cubs, though, had reasons not to procrastinate. Sure, those three weeks may seem like a small time to have waited if Castro ends up costing them an extra $10 million-$15 million over four years of arbitration eligibility. But there’s a slight chance it’ll mean the difference between reaching the postseason in 2010 and staying home in October.
Besides, Castro, for all of his positives, isn’t Tim Lincecum or Matt Wieters or Jason Heyward. He’s certainly not going to have any 30-homer seasons in his mid-20s. If he hits more than 15 homers in 2012, it’d be an upset. He should hit for average and steal some bases, but he’s not the kind of player the arbitration process tends to reward most handsomely. Odds are that it will be several years before he makes a real dent in the Cubs’ lofty budget.
So the money isn’t that big of a deal. And Castro may well be able to help out right away. When he’s just 20 — and he just hit that number on March 24 — he was off to a .376/.421/.569 start at Double-A Tennessee. He makes a ton of contact and is adept at fighting off breaking balls, so he doesn’t strike out very often. He also doesn’t walk much, but he seems to be improving there. Dating back to last year, he’s walked 19 times in 220 at-bats in Double-A, matching his total in 358 at-bats from high-A ball.
Castro is a poor basestealer for someone with above average speed, but that will change with coaching. On defense, he’s occasionally spectacular and he should be a modest improvement on Ryan Theriot. As he continues to fill out, he may face a move to second base someday. His range isn’t an issue yet, though.
The Cubs can plug Castro into the eighth spot in the lineup and see what happens. If he struggles, then they’ll still have Mike Fontenot as a fallback. Castro is so young that an early major league failure would hardly dim his prospects. The Cubs have hurt themselves by rushing prospects in the past, and I still think they’re making a mistake with Tyler Colvin, even though he’s provided ample production in his limited action.
Castro, though, doesn’t have the kind of game that’s going to fall apart just because he’s facing pitchers capable of painting the black and throwing breaking balls in any count. He’s not going to challenge Jason Heyward for Rookie of the Year honors, but he could hit .280/.340/.400 and be an asset as an everyday player the rest of the way.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.