Starlin Castro is ready to sign a long-term contract with the Cubs.
CSN Chicago's David Kaplan was the first to report that the Cubs and Castro are negotiating a six- to seven-year contract. That would buy out Castro's four seasons of arbitration eligibility as well as his first three years of free agency.
(Castro qualifies as a "Super Two" player, meaning that he's earned a fourth year of arbitration over the usual three. As MLB Trade Rumors explains, a player with two years and 134 days of service time in the major leagues earns such status. This is why you see many teams hold promising prospects in the minors until after June, to limit their major league service time and avoid that fourth year of arbitration.)
But is this really the best decision for Castro? The 22-year-old gains the long-term security of a major league salary for multiple seasons regardless of how he performs or whether he gets hurt. However, Castro is also costing himself a lot of potential money and could spend many bad seasons with a team undergoing a massive rebuilding project.
Giving the Cubs a Bargain
Castro didn't have to agree to a long-term contract with the Cubs. He was going to be in Chicago for at least another four years due to his arbitration-eligibility status. That length of club control is something major league teams covet nowadays as they attempt to keep costs down.
Yet Castro is allowing the Cubs to keep costs even further down by giving up the bargaining power he was entitled to through arbitration.
Though he'll surely get a raise during the next four years of his new contract, the increase will probably be less than he would have earned through the arbitration process.
Castro is taking this even further, reducing his potential earning power by letting the Cubs buy out his first three years of free agency.
What would a 26-year-old shortstop—a position at which there are very few great players—possibly earn on the open market with teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants (just to name a few clubs) likely willing to throw big cash at such a rare commodity?
Now, we'll never know. Castro will surely be paid very nicely during those final three seasons on his contract. But he probably could have earned very much more.
Perception Is Hard to Change
Just three seasons into his major league career, Castro may already need a proverbial change of scenery. With several mental lapses in the field this season (which I detailed in a recent blog post), Castro is developing the reputation of a player who loses concentration and lacks cerebral discipline.
That can be a tough perception to overcome, especially with a fanbase that follows Castro regularly and witnesses these space-outs on a semi-regular basis.
It doesn't take much for a reputation to stick to a player, and Castro may have already lost the benefit of the doubt with Cubs fans, coaches and executives for future mistakes he makes on the field.
If the belief that Castro lacks focus cements itself, he won't be able to escape that perception for at least six years now.
Had that reputation continued to plague him over the next four years, he would have had the opportunity to escape and get off to a fresh start with a new team and fanbase.
Of course, Castro can always dispel this notion by playing well and eliminating the mental mistakes he's becoming noted for. But he'll have to work much harder to do so with the Cubs.
Lost in a Rebuild
The 2012 season represents the first year of team president Theo Epstein's large-scale rebuilding project for the Cubs.
Pitchers Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were dealt away at the trade deadline. Matt Garza and perhaps even Alfonso Soriano (with the $36 million he'll be paid over the next two years) could be traded in the offseason.
Young talent such as Anthony Rizzo, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson have already been summoned to the majors to jump-start the Cubs' future. More will soon follow, especially as Epstein accumulates prospects by trading away expensive veteran players.
Obviously, the Cubs hope and expect Castro to be the cornerstone of this rebuilding effort, the player around whom a future team can be built.
But how many of Castro's prime seasons will be lost playing for a team that doesn't project to be very good for the next three to five years, if not longer? How much losing has Castro committed to being a part of with this new contract? Will he regret being stuck with a loser if Epstein's reconstruction project doesn't develop as hoped?
This contract extension is a leap of faith for the Cubs and Castro. Both sides are taking on risk. There are no guarantees Castro will be the player the Cubs are projecting him to be. Castro isn't assured of playing for an eventual championship contender at Wrigley Field.
Yet team and player will also enjoy significant mutual benefits by reaching a multi-year agreement in terms of cost control and long-term security.
If there's a bright side for Castro, it's that he'll be 28 or 29 by the time this contract expires. He'll still arguably be in the prime of his career, playing a premium position.
Another big payday—one boosted by free agency—still awaits him in the future. If signing away his arbitration and early free-agent seasons turns out to be a mistake, he still has an opportunity to make up for that decision.
UPDATE: ESPN Deportes' Enrique Rojas is reporting Castro's contract with the Cubs is for seven years and $60 million.
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