Cubs

Ex-Cub Starlin Castro reportedly the lone big leaguer leaving Yankees in Stanton swap, but could he quickly return to New York?

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USA TODAY

Ex-Cub Starlin Castro reportedly the lone big leaguer leaving Yankees in Stanton swap, but could he quickly return to New York?

It's hard to imagine a bigger baseball headline than the reported trade that will send Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins to the New York Yankees.

And with it comes some interesting info involving the only other major league player in that deal: former Cubs infielder Starlin Castro.

Castro was briefly the face of the Cubs, a highly touted prospect who made his big league debut with a six-RBI game against the Cincinnati Reds in May 2010. He played six seasons on the North Side, making three All-Star appearances and pairing with Anthony Rizzo to form what looked like the 1-2 punch of the future.

He was around for Joe Maddon's first season and the team's trip to the National League Championship Series, but with the arrival of so many other talented young players — such as shortstop Addison Russell, who forced Castro to slide over to second base — Castro became expendable and was moved after the 2015 campaign to make room for Ben Zobrist, who signed a four-year contract and wound up the MVP of the 2016 World Series.

Well, Castro — who hit .300 with a .338 on-base percentage for the Yankees last season and hit a combined 37 home runs in two seasons in the Bronx — is reportedly the only big leaguer leaving New York for Miami in this trade, the other players being prospects in what is essentially a salary dump (and a big one) for the Marlins.

But, if you extrapolate from a Saturday report, Castro's time in South Florida might be brief and he could wind up back in the Big Apple. How? Step right up and meet the Mets.

According to that report, the New York Mets are interested in Castro's services to fill their need at second base. And given that Derek Jeter's new regime running the Marlins seems to be prioritizing cutting spending at the moment, there's no reason to think they wouldn't turn around and trade Castro not long after acquiring him.

That'd make for a crazy offseason for the former Cub, whose career has already had more twists and turns than most.

So stay tuned. "Starlin the Marlin" might not be a thing for very long.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”