Eye on the Enemy: Cubs a mess, looking to shake things up with Castro, Theriot


The Cubs are 11-13 and seem to be of no threat to the Cardinals again this season. St. Louis is 15-8 and clearly the best team in the division. The rest of the NL Central is dismal. Until the Reds recent hot streak, the Cardinals were the only team with a winning record. The Cubs may be the most disappointing team with a losing record in baseball, but as Ramirez, Lee, and Soriano age, the losses are probably going to keep piling up. Throw in the fact that your ace is somehow helping the team more from the bullpen, and you know Chicago is a mess. Now, the one player that’s producing has to deal with talk that a 20-year-old prospect could take his job.

Yep, the Cubs are off to another bad start in 2010. The jokes are rolling in and the Ricketts family has its hands full. It could be another 100 years before Chicago smells the autumn air again if this is how the club is run.

If there’s a guy in Chicago that Cards fans would love, it would be Ryan Theriot. He has a little bit of David Eckstein in him, except he’s a better hitter. Too bad the Cubs don’t appreciate him.

Here’s my Ryno Report on Call to the Pen for the week — keeping an eye on the enemy.

In professional sports, there is an obsession with the unknown. It’s exciting. The NFL Draft keeps fans mesmerized for an entire weekend and they can’t wait to see the new guy out on the field. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay get paid just to analyze and hype the entire process. They’re both already breaking down film and building charts for the 2011 draft. Everyone is immediately wondering if Sam Bradford should start right away. The Eagles were so excited to see something new this year, so they traded away Donovan McNabb – to a division rival. The McNabb show was getting old anyway. There was no excitement anymore. McNabb led his team to 92 wins, five NFC championship games, and a Super Bowl birth in 11 seasons. It’s not much fun to watch consistency and success in sports these days. No, today, we need youth and controversy to have fun. Steve Nash was too old for Mark Cuban’s trust in 2004. Nash went to the Suns, won two MVPs, and he’s still the best point guard in the game in 2010 – six years later. While Cuban is sitting at home right now wondering how the Mavericks lost to the Spurs, Nash and the Suns are preparing for San Antonio. Cuban just needs to watch that series to see the answer to his problems – the old man wearing No. 13. Age trumped proven success. New things are always better until they’re aren’t. It doesn’t make sense, right?

The Chicago Cubs are the latest team in sports that appears ready to make a big mistake. Starlin Castro is the next big thing. The 20-year-old shortstop has the front office and fan base excited. He will likely push Ryan Theriot over to second base at some point this season. Because, the middle infield is definitely the problem with this Cubs team.

Theriot is second in the entire major leagues with 34 hits. He is batting .337 and has five stolen bases. He’s playing solid baseball all around. Mike Fontenot is hitting .305 and Jeff Baker is a proven commodity despite his early season struggles. Yep, something needs to change up the middle. Castro is way better. He’s hitting .352 and has four stolen bases in Double-A Tennessee! Sign him up.

The Cubs may need to shake things up, but the middle infield is not the place.

The money guys are old and fragile. The team is dysfunctional. The Cubs should be looking for young replacements at first, third, and the outfield. Not shortstop.

Ryan Theriot is a leader of this ball club. Theriot is the heart and soul of this Cubs team. Without him, Chicago would be the Tin Man of the majors. Since he arrived at Wrigley in 2007, he has built a reputation on hustle. He sprints down the line every time he makes contact. He has respect for the game and always plays hard. Chicago fans loved “The Riot” when he came up. It’s always fun to see a pro playing like he’s still in the sandlot. How can’t you love a guy like that?

Three years later, the same fan base is ready to cast Theriot aside for the newest prospect.

Theriot is a liability at shortstop, anyway, they say. He has no range. His arm is weak. It’s funny how quickly things change. Everyone thinks they know what it takes to play shortstop in the major leagues now. You need great range and a rocket for an arm. That’s all you need. If you have the tools, you are a surefire Gold Glove shortstop. Give me a break.

There’s more to playing shortstop in the MLB than having the physical abilities. Theriot has proven to be a good shortstop in the majors. He makes the routine plays at the toughest position in baseball. He has a career .976 fielding percentage at short. He’s solid. And he has all the intangibles a big league shortstop needs. Theriot may not be the most talented, but he’s always prepared. He has grown into a leadership role with the Cubs and his teammates trust him out there. After three years at shortstop, he has learned how to play the position at this level. Theriot knows what the pitcher is doing, he’s watching the outfield and the hitter, and he’s directing the infield. A player can only pick up that knowledge and notice tendencies with experience. There is a comfort level and chemistry out there that begins with the shortstop.

Mess with it, and a dysfunctional team will only get worse. Theriot deserves the organization’s loyalty. He’s one of their best and most consistent players. There is a certain pride that goes with being the team’s leader and shortstop. Take that away from him, and you’re going to have problems.

Don’t feed me the sabermetrics on Theriot’s defensive liabilities. There is so much that goes into playing the position that numbers can’t measure. Just watch how he plays and you’ll see how valuable he is to the Cubs.

Starlin Castro hasn’t proven any value to the Cubs organization. He can’t compare to Theriot in any aspect of the game. He isn’t a better hitter and he isn’t better in the field. Yet, everyone wants Castro.

He has the physical abilities to be great, but that doesn’t make him great. He has great range, soft hands, and a big arm. What do these terms really mean when Castro had 39 errors in 119 games last year! At any level, 39 errors are far too many. It’s ridiculous. It’s even worse considering where he made the errors – Single-A (32 in 90 games) and Double-A (7 in 29 games). The numbers don’t lie. Castro is far from being ready to play shortstop at Wrigley. He has three errors in 21 games at Double-A this year already. He doesn’t know how to play the position in the minors yet. The physical tools only take you so far.

Theriot, on the other hand, made 15 errors in 151 games against the best players in baseball last year. He has two in 23 games this year. How is Castro a better defensive player than Theriot? We’re not talking about prospects. We’re talking about right now. Today. Who gives the Cubs the best chance to win every day at shortstop? Theriot is the better option and it’s not even close.Castro would not instantly become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. He’s not even one of the best in the minors. He would easily be one of the worst in the MLB.

At the plate, he would struggle too. Castro hit .299 in 127 at bats in 2009. This year, he’s off to a hot start. Castro is hitting at a .352 clip. But that doesn’t translate to the majors. There is a steep learning curve from level to level and none is steeper than the jump to the big leagues. Pitchers eat prospects alive with their experience and savvy.

Theriot hit .284 and .307 in the past two seasons in Chicago. This year, as I said earlier, he’s second in the MLB with 34 hits. Theriot (.337) is a very good contact hitter and has sustained success over three years.

Lastly, Theriot is more of a threat on the base paths. Castro is faster, but he doesn’t know how to steal bases yet. Theriot has stolen at least 20 bases the past three years and has five in 2010. Despite being criticized for his aggression, Theriot has been more successful than Castro in his stealing attempts.

Theriot outclasses Castro in every major category, yet the Cubs are so sure that the rookie will be in Chicago this year. Theriot is not a second baseman. He’s a shortstop and he is the shortstop of the Chicago Cubs. He has done nothing but good things for the organization and is one of the few bright spots the last two years. Starlin Castro will have his time to shine eventually. But he’s not ready this year. He may not be ready next year. He’s only 20-years-old after all. The Cubs need to slow down and think about the mess they could create.

Theriot won’t be happy. The team will suffer. And Castro’s development could be hurt if he’s rushed to the big show.

Be careful what you wish for. Enjoy Theriot’s steady hand at short and success at the plate, don’t fall for the unknown. It’s a dangerous thing. The Cubs have done it in the past.

Remember superstars Corey Patterson and Felix Pie.

Yeah, me neither.

(Statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.com)