Cubs

What does the future hold for Starlin Castro with Cubs?

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What does the future hold for Starlin Castro with Cubs?

"The game reveals it for you."

Joe Maddon was discussing the X's and O's of how he can work in defensive replacements with his new offensive-minded starting lineup, but that line can also apply to Starlin Castro's future with the Cubs. The game reveals it for you.

[RELATED - Starlin Castro refuses to put his head down after benching]

Nobody knows what the future holds for the Cubs or Castro, but it will all eventually work itself out. Right now, the team insists the recent benching doesn't change the 25-year-old's status with the franchise.

"No, not at all," Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday. "He's a big part of what we have going here. A 25-year-old, three-time All-Star who has been the shortstop on a playoff-worthy team (as of right now).

"Certainly, we think he'll play better baseball going forward than he has the last four months and a week."

Despite that impressive resume and a relatively reasonable contract that keeps him under club control through the 2020 season, Castro has found himself in trade rumors, especially before the non-waiver deadline last month.

With Addison Russell's emergence at age 21, Castro needed a solid season to maintain his hold on the shortstop position, but instead carries a .575 OPS, the worst mark among all big-league shortstops.

[RELATED - Starlin Castro the odd man out of Joe Maddon's lineup]

Castro's struggles have left the Cubs baffled.

"Yeah, of course [it's puzzling]," Epstein said. "A 25-year-old, for as talented as he is, usually gets better and puts up good seasons.

"He's shown some streakiness in his career. Even within the course of a good season, he'll have a couple months where he's not performing well and then he'll get really hot. And we've benefitted from that hot streak.

"But it's just a year that he hasn't really gotten comfortable at the plate for whatever reason. I think maybe this will help him - a little bit of time off, a little bit different look out there on the field and maybe Joe can put him in a position to find it and get hot."

The Cubs initially moved Russell to second base before his promotion to the big leagues, but with Castro's struggles, the rookie is back at his natural position, where he's always envisioned himself playing.

"I've been playing [shortstop] ever since I was a little kid and all my dreams are coming true," Russell said. "That's great and all, but I just want to help out the team now that I'm in the big leagues. Wherever they need me, I'm going to try to get the job done."

Castro said nobody from the Cubs has talked to him yet about possibly switching positions, but Maddon said they have started internal discussions about different possibilities.

Right now, the Cubs just want Castro to get back to the player he is capable of being instead of trying to add more to his plate.

"Maybe a little break, a little rebooting can help," Maddon said. "I really like this kid a lot and I want to see it work out for him and for us."

Epstein thinks moving Coghlan to the infield could be a blessing in disguise for the Cubs, freeing Maddon up to give the rookies a day off here or there and keep them fresh for the stretch run.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

"It's going to finally allow Joe to get a little bit more rest for the [Kris] Bryants and Russells of the world, guys who have never played a six-month season before," Epstein said.

"And then for Starlin, too. It's going to give him days off that will hopefully allow him to find it."

Castro said he is trying not to focus on the future and stay positive, but also admitted he wouldn't mind having a conversation with Epstein's front office if there was the possibility of a position or role change.

"Yeah, if I have a chance to talk to them, I will," Castro said. "Whatever they can do, they know why they do it and they know what is best for me and the other players.

"Whatever decision they make, I'm in."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”