Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto will have season-ending surgery on his right shoulder, according to MLB.com. Soto, 27, was baseball's best offensive catcher when healthy this year, and will be ready for spring training nest February.
During the team's final two weeks, however, backup Koyie Hill will see the bulk of the playing time, according to Cubs manager Mike Quade. Here enters the controversy.
Hill, 31, has been predictably abysmal this season. His somewhat overblown defensive prowess has never been enough to offset his offensive helplessness: Over the past two seasons, only two players (well-known stinkers Jeff Mathis and Willy Taveras) have amassed 450 or more plate appearances while hitting worse than Hill.
In 2010, Hill's numbers stand at .223/.251/.307. He has only one home run, and has struck out roughly eight times as often as he has walked.
Hill gained his role on the team somewhat strangely, by stepping into the team's catching vacuum in 2007 and (essentially) getting very lucky. The team went 17-8 in Hill's 25 starts that season, en route to a playoff berth. Thereafter, Hill gained the confidence of both Cubs manager Lou Piniella and the team's front office.
It appears that Hill also has won over interim skipper Quade, but the real verdict will be revealed when the team breaks camp under a new regime next spring: By one or another mechanism, Hill must be released by the team this winter.
Aside from the fact that Hill, already arbitration eligible in 2010, could make more than $1 million next season, the Cubs need to take a more serious look at their top catching prospects.
Welington Castillo, 23, is a hulking right-handed hitter whom managerial front-runner Ryne Sandberg managed for each of the past three seasons. This year, Castillo has reached the big leagues, and has two doubles and a home run in just 12 plate appearances.
Whether Castillo—whose only real tools are his offensive power and arm behind the plate—will be a long-term success as a major-league regular remains to be seen. After he posted a .498 slugging average at Triple-A Iowa this season, however, Castillo is clearly ready for the opportunity to play behind Soto.
To prove that readiness, however, Castillo will need a chance to show his stuff over the Cubs' remaining 13 games. Quade's Q-rating with GM Jim Hendry may rise slightly if he continues to play Hill, but the Cubs will be in serious trouble again next season if Hill returns.