Days after it was learned that expensive veteran outfielder Alfonso Soriano cleared waivers and can be dealt to any team willing to take on his exorbitant contract, the Chicago Cubs are reportedly working on a long-term deal for 22-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro, according to ESPNChicago.com.
When Theo Epstein was named president of baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs last off-season, he inherited a listless team with a mostly barren farm system and a roster stocked with veterans laden with burdensome contracts.
During his first year, the former Red Sox general manager has applied his philosophy of rebuilding through the draft, international free agent signings and stockpiling prospects via trades. Castro represents a young core player that the Cubs can build around.
A two-time All-Star who is in his third Major League season, Castro became the youngest player in National League history to lead the league in hits when he completed the 2011 season with 207. He batted .307 with 10 home runs, 66 RBI, 22 stolen bases and nine triples.
This year, the Dominican Republic native has a .276 average with 12 home runs, 58 RBI, eight triples and 19 steals. He has struggled since the All-Star break, though, batting .236 in 123 at-bats.
Like the Houston Astros, which are 39-80 and in the National League Central basement, the Chicago Cubs are out of contention, sitting at 46-70 and one spot ahead of Houston in the NL Central standings. Also like the Astros, the Cubs have reason for optimism because of young core players like Castro, second baseman Darwin Barney, first base phenom Anthony Rizzo and right-handed starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
Epstein has bolstered the team’s minor league depth by acquiring prospects like right-handed pitcher Arodys Vizcaino from Atlanta in the Paul Maholm trade and highly regarded third baseman Christian Villaneuva from Texas in the Ryan Dempster deal. The Cubs made a splash during the internati0nal free agent signing period by inking 20-year-old Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, who was recently promoted to low Single-A Peoria.
Soriano, Carlos Marmol, Bryan LaHair and David DeJesus are veterans who the Cubs will likely trade either this month or in the off-season as the team continues to build for the future. Rizzo is early in his Major League service time, so Epstein does not need to think about his contract status. Castro, though, appears to be a priority, even with 19-year-old shortstop prospect Javier Baez at Single-A.
According to ESPNChicago.com, a six-year deal for Castro would include his arbitration-eligible seasons and his first two years of free agency.