Epstein: Too much focus on what Castro can't do

CINCINNATI -- Typically not one to talk about ongoing contract negotiations, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein relented somewhat Friday in the Starlin Castro situation.

Castro’s agent Paul Kinzer was quoted Thursday as saying that negotiations for a long-term contract have been going on “for a period of time.”

“In this case the agent has come out on the record so I’m not going to lie to you guys given it’s out there,” Epstein said Friday, before hearing what he said and laughing. “Not that I ordinarily lie to you.

“I’ll confess that he speaks the truth. We are talking. It’s something we would like to get done. I think it would be a good thing for Starlin and for the ballclub."

There is clearly a risk in signing a 22-year-old shortstop to a deal that could be as long as six years and Epstein acknowledges as much. But the biggest knocks on a still-improving Castro are that he sometimes loses focus every so often.

The consensus seems to be that brief and infrequent focus lapses are an easier fix than teaching somebody to be a formidable natural hitter with plus range at shortstop and a live arm.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to look at a young player like this at the big leagues and point out what he can’t do, or what he doesn’t yet do consistently,” Epstein said. “But I think it’s important to acknowledge those things and identify them as areas for continued growth and development. But you have to step back and look at what the player can do.

“He’s an extraordinarily athletic shortstop, he’s proven he has the range, he has the arm and then some. He has the hands when he has the proper footwork to go with it. Sure he’s made a few careless errors through the course of the season and lately as all good shortstops do, but he’s shown he can make every play that we need to make and he’s shown that as we have demanded it of him he can show greater growth through his consistency. Offensively, the sky’s the limit.”

One argument against giving such a young player that kind of financial stability is that they lose their hunger and drive to improve. Epstein feels the opposite should happen with Castro.

“Not specific to Starlin, in general it can be a big relief to players to go out and play and not worry about an arbitration year or platform year knowing they will be part of the leadership of a club for a long time,” Epstein said. “It can relax them and it can also reinforce the importance of stepping up with some leadership qualities. Being the player you want others to look up to and be a role model.”

It could be in the Cubs’ best interest to get a deal done as soon as possible since the distraction could have something to do with some recent struggles.

“I also think it can help a player to take a deep breath and let his abilities take over especially if you ever did happen to negotiate during a season,” Epstein said. “Especially if you end up negotiating during a season, that can be tough on a player and when something gets done they usually take a deep breath and perform.”

Manager Dale Sveum wasn’t completely buying into the concept that contract talks have reduced Castro’s focus.

“The other day they were going on and he had three hits and a two-run homer,” Sveum said. “He’s got about nine RBIs since I put him in the fifth spot. Sometimes we get caught up with averages and all that but he’s been driving in runs in that spot too with his two-run doubles.”