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updated: 8/28/2012 11:51 PM

With Castro deal, Cubs commit to youth

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  • Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has signed a seven-year deal with the club.

      Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has signed a seven-year deal with the club.
    Associated Press

  • Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro had more than enough reason to smile during batting practice before Tuesday night's game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field.

      Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro had more than enough reason to smile during batting practice before Tuesday night's game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field.
    Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro begins the double play forcing Milwaukee Brewers' Rickie Weeks at second and getting Ryan Braun at first during the third inning of a baseball game, Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, in Chicago.

      Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro begins the double play forcing Milwaukee Brewers' Rickie Weeks at second and getting Ryan Braun at first during the third inning of a baseball game, Monday, Aug. 27, 2012, in Chicago.
    Associated Press

 

There were a whole lot of numbers -- and some big ones -- thrown around Wrigley Field Tuesday.

The biggest was the $60 million agreed to by shortstop Starlin Castro and the Cubs.

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But the most important number brought up was Castro's age: 22.

"What people sometimes forget when they talk about Starlin, they forget about his age," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We talk about, 'This guy's a top prospect, that guy's a top prospect.' This guy's younger than those top prospects, and he's got 500 hits.

"I think it is important to sometimes remember to put his age in context. We're still talking about a guy who would have been in his first year of pro ball if he had gone to college in the States. We're lucky to have such a young player. His talent got him here at a young age.

"He's still learning in the big leagues, but he's showing that he'll put in the work to be a great player, and I have no question that there will be a lot of special Starlin Castro moments here as a Cub."

Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein guaranteed the years. It will be up to Castro to provide the moments.

The two sides agreed on a deal that provides Castro with a $6 million signing bonus and salaries of $5 million in 2013 and 2014, $6 million in 2015, $7 million in 2016, $9 million in 2017, $10 million in 2018 and $11 million in 2019.

There is a club option worth $16 million for 2020. If they Cubs don't exercise it, they owe Castro a $1 million buyout. The deal gets the Cubs past four years of salary arbitration and at least three years of free agency.

In other words, Castro gets long-term security and the chance to hit the free-agent market big again at a relatively young age.

The Cubs get cost certainty over the long term and don't have to brace for the potential of huge salary increases in the arbitration process if Castro reaches the superstar potential some have predicted.

This can be a bad deal for the Cubs only if Castro turns out to be a complete bust. Both he and the Cubs seem to think that hard work, in addition to talent, will keep that from happening.

"That's where I want to be -- here on this team for a long time and winning," Castro said. "It's not going to stop for me, working hard every day on the field. Just be here for a long time, be here working hard every day and don't stop being humble like I am and stay like that for the rest of my career."

Castro is a two-time all-star already. He came up in May 2010 and had 6 RBI, with a homer and a triple, in his first major-league game. Last year he led the National League in hits, with 207.

It has been a mixed bag this season. Castro entered Tuesday night's game against the Milwaukee Brewers with a hitting line of .276/.311/.418. His 12 home runs marked a career high, and he had 63 RBI and 21 stolen bases.

Castro also had 21 errors. Defense and concentration have been concerns since he came up, but Hoyer said Castro's willingness to work on his defense was a big reason the Cubs took the risk of going out long.

"His desire and ability to get better on defense," Hoyer said. "We all know he can hit. There's no question about that. That's a rare thing for a middle infielder.

"But really proving to us that he was willing to put in the work to play shortstop was a big part of that. That was probably the No. 1 factor to be willing to go out that long.

"We looked at it and said to ourselves we want to make sure we had Starlin's prime, that Starlin was going to be here as a Cub.

"I think continuity is an underrated thing in sports. If you can make sure you have the same building blocks year after year, that's really important. With him, it was obvious."

Manager Dale Sveum, a hitting coach by trade, says there's also a lot of room for growth at the plate.

"The ceiling is obviously very high for slugging percentage and the OPS, obviously when you get older and more selective," Sveum said. "He's got the makings of having 800-900 OPS when things get ironed out.

"Right now, it's the youth and pitch selection and grinding out at-bats and understanding about being a winning hitter on a consistent basis."

And winning in Chicago is what Castro said is important to him, in addition to living up to comparisons with Yankees great Derek Jeter.

"That's what I'm trying to be: Jeter, a complete player," Castro said. "Steal bases, play defense, hit home runs. I want to win here.

"It's good for me. I feel really, really happy because this is the organization that signed me when I was a little kid. I don't want to go anywhere. That's what I'm looking for. That's the only important (thing) right now: win the World Series, and here."

•Follow Bruce Miles on Twitter @BruceMiles2112 and join in the Cubs conversation on the Daily Herald's baseball blog, Chicago's Inside Pitch, also at dailyherald.com.

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