Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro gets 7-year deal

Starlin Castro was barely out of his teens when he made his big

league debut. Now it looks as though he’ll still be donning Cubbie

blue when he hits his 30s.

The Chicago Cubs and their young shortstop agreed to a

seven-year contract with a club option for 2020, the team said

Tuesday. The deal could keep Castro in Chicago until after his 30th

birthday.

”Only the most talented players get to the big leagues at 20,”

said Cubs general manger Jed Hoyer. ”I’m sitting here with a

22-year-old veteran right now. That was a big part of our

decision.

”The way it was looking, Starlin was going to be a free agent

way too early. He’s a big part of our future. We have four years of

control with him after this year. By doing this deal, we now have

eight.”

Castro is a two-time All-Star in just his second full major

league season, and he led the National League in hits with 207 last

season. Since making his major league debut on May 7, 2010, Castro

has more hits than any player in the NL with 486.

”I want to be here for a long time and winning,” Castro said.

”My family (will) change, but nothing (will) change for myself.

(The money is) not going to stop me from working hard every day on

the field.”

Castro was originally signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free

agent on Oct. 25, 2006. Terms of the new deal were not released by

the team, but published reports have placed the guaranteed money at

$60 million over the duration of the extension, a figure Castro was

asked about in Tuesday’s press conference.

”It’s big, especially for my family, coming from very poor

people,” Castro said. ”Now my family is going to be better, their

lives changing.”

Castro motioned toward his father, who was standing nearby, and

said, ”My dad wanted me to play baseball every time. He got me

here.”

While Castro’s raw talent has always been evident, things have

not always gone smoothly for a player who skirted with trouble off

the field and suffered well-publicized mental lapses on it. He was

accused of sexual assault following the 2011 season, though Cook

County prosecutors declined to press charges, citing insufficient

evidence.

Castro’s on-field focus has also been questioned, most notably

during a nationally-televised game last season when cameras

captured him with his back to the plate as a pitch was being

delivered.

Despite the occasional bouts with immaturity, the Cubs feel

Castro is going to be a foundation player for a club just beginning

its rebuilding process under a new front office regime headed by

vice president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Hoyer.

”It’s been fun getting to know Starlin as a person, but also

watching him play every day,” Hoyer said. ”Shortstop is a really

hard position to fill in today’s game, especially with someone who

can provide it with offense.

”There is no question in my mind that he can play shortstop in

the big leagues on a championship team.”

Castro whet the appetite of Cubs fans from the start, homering

in his first career at-bat and setting a big league record with six

RBIs in his debut. He was taken in by Cubs veteran Alfonso Soriano,

a fellow Dominican who helped mentor Castro at the beginning of his

career.

”He’s very important,” Castro said of Soriano. ”When I first

got here, he took me to live in his house. He talked to me about

baseball and how important baseball is for you and your

family.”

Castro, a career .296 hitter, was batting .276 this season with

12 homers and 63 RBIs before Tuesday night’s game against

Milwaukee. He’s struggled recently and admitted he might have been

slightly distracted by the negotiations between the Cubs and his

agent, Paul Kinzer.

”It’ll be interesting to see if there is any change now that

this thing is behind him and he’ll be here for a long time,” said

Cubs manager Dale Sveum. ”When you get that first contract, you

can relax and realize that there really is only one thing to play

for and that’s winning the World Series.”