New York Mets

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.

How Theo Epstein sees Chili Davis making a difference for Cubs

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USA TODAY

How Theo Epstein sees Chili Davis making a difference for Cubs

The Cubs can’t send Chili Davis out to face Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, but team president Theo Epstein believes his presence will help the franchise’s young hitters next October.

Those pronounced playoff struggles against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers — on top of the way the New York Mets power pitchers overwhelmed the Cubs during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep — led to a major shakeup of Joe Maddon’s coaching staff.

Firing hitting coach John Mallee isn’t really about what he didn’t do, because he worked nonstop across the last three years, overseeing an offense that actually scored more runs this season than the 2016 World Series team.

It’s more the instant credibility that Davis brings as a switch-hitter who made three All-Star teams and earned World Series rings with the 1991 Minnesota Twins and the last New York Yankees dynasty (1998-99).

Epstein initially brought Davis into the Boston Red Sox organization, hiring him as an overqualified hitting coach for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2011, the last season before sweeping changes would hit Fenway Park.

Davis spent the next six years as the big-league hitting coach for the Oakland A’s and Red Sox, working with players like Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi.

“Chili’s well-established as one of the very best hitting coaches in the game,” Epstein said after Thursday’s staff announcements. “His philosophy and approach happened to fit with what we hope will be the next step for many of our hitters. We talked after the season about hoping to get better with situational hitting, with our two-strike approach, with using the whole field, with having competitive, team-based at-bats.

“That happens to be Chili’s core philosophy — hitting line drives to the middle of the field. Your line drives will turn into home runs. He’s excellent at teaching a two-strike approach and teaching situational hitting. He’s really good at helping to get hitters to understand when an elite pitcher’s on his game, you have to sometimes take what he gives you, and have an adjustable swing, an adjustable approach for those situations.

“He’s got the gravitas of a 19-year career, 350 homers, over 1,300 RBIs. That combined with his excellent manner and ability to communicate with players makes him a really impactful figure.”

Mallee — who grew up as the son of a Chicago cop and graduated from Mount Carmel High School — brought stability to a position that used to have the job security of the drummer for Spinal Tap.

The Cubs wanted Mallee’s data-driven approach and the ability to explain heat maps and cold zones and how pitchers would attack each at-bat. Mallee also gave the Cubs a very accurate scouting report on Dexter Fowler before making that January 2015 trade with the Houston Astros.

During Mallee’s tenure, Kris Bryant became the fourth player in major-league history to be named MVP the season after winning Rookie of the Year honors. Ian Happ kept making enough adjustments to hit 24 home runs during his rookie season (with only 26 games of experience at Triple-A Iowa). Javier Baez made great strides this year — 23 homers, 75 RBI, .796 OPS — before an 0-for-20 tailspin to start the playoffs.

In one way, the Cubs even endorsed Mallee’s methods by promoting minor-league hitting coordinator Andy Haines to work with Davis as the assistant hitting coach. Mallee and Haines have a Miami connection after working in the Marlins organization.

“I would like to thank the Chicago Cubs for the amazing opportunity to be part of a great tradition and organization for the last three years,” Mallee wrote in a statement. “I left a great Houston Astros organization to be closer to home with my family and to help my hometown team win a World Series.

“We did that. I have no regrets and stand by my work. I wish nothing but the best for the Cubs organization and all the amazing people I met along the way, especially my hitters. See you from across the field.”

When the Cubs talk up their culture and the first-class organization they’ve built, there’s also an unspoken, underlying coldness to it all, even while making justifiable decisions. The Cubs publicly hailed Ricky Renteria basically up to the moment Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and someone better came along.

Whether or not that will always be sustainable, Davis does have a great resume, no doubt. The Cubs are hoping Davis can help salvage the $184 million investment in Jason Heyward and rewire an offense that ranked last in batting average (.168) and on-base percentage (.240) among the 10-team playoff field. Outside of that unforgettable 9-8 thriller at Nationals Park, the Cubs scored 16 runs in nine postseason games.

“John Mallee is an outstanding hitting coach and we would not be in the position we’re in now with rings on our finger without him,” Epstein said. “Chili just happens to be, in our opinion, uniquely qualified for this group, at this moment in time, to help us get to the next level.”

Joe Maddon speaks for Cubs fans when it comes to Daniel Murphy

Joe Maddon speaks for Cubs fans when it comes to Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy's name will always elicit groans from Cubs fans.

It doesn't matter that the Cubs won it all in 2016. Murphy's dominance over the North Siders in the 2015 National League Championship Series will serve as a black mark in the franchise's history. 

Forget the fact that the Cubs hit just .164 with a .522 OPS against the New York Mets in the four games.

It was Murphy's performance — four homers, nine hits, 1.850 OPS — that sticks in the crawl of the fanbase, to the point where he still gets booed when he visits Wrigley Field.

Murphy will once again meet the Cubs in October, hitting in the middle of a relentless Washington Nationals lineup.

Joe Maddon spoke for every Cubs fan when he was asked about Murphy Wednesday.

"I still wish he was a Met," Maddon chuckled. "There's no question, I do. He was so good a couple years ago. He's still very good. He's outstanding. He has really reinvented himself during the middle of his career. He's one of the more dangerous hitters playing baseball right now."

Murphy — who signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with Washington after the Mets lost to the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 World Series — didn't homer last fall, but he did hit .438 and drive in six runs in the Nationals' five-game NLDS loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jon Lester will be tasked with slowing down Murphy and the Nationals lineup Saturday in Game 2 and the Cubs veteran southpaw said he believes the team has done better against Murphy lately.

While he's technically right, it's only because Murphy's 2015 NLCS numbers were so out-of-this-world.

In 2017, Murphy hit .360 with a 1.229 OPS in seven games against Cubs pitching, hitting three homers, driving in four runs and scoring nine. 

Lester and Co. had better luck in 2016, when Murphy hit *only* .286 with a .726 OPS and did not homer in seven games against the Cubs.

"What makes him even more dangerous now is the guys around him," Lester said. "You think, 'Hey, I don't wanna pitch to [Bryce] Harper and this guy' and then all of a sudden, you got first and second or second and third with him up.

"And he's such a good contact hitter that it makes it hard to strike him out and it makes it harder to get those weak ground balls. 

"...That'll be fun to face that lineup. It's a good lineup. He flat-out beat us in '15. Hopefully that's not the case this go-around."