Joe Maddon met with Starlin Castro late Tuesday night in the manager’s office, trying to clear the air and reassure the All-Star shortstop that he still has a future with the Cubs.
Maddon said he told Castro: “Listen, you’re not getting traded. Just relax and play. Don’t worry about this stuff.”
With rumors flying all over Twitter before Friday’s non-waiver deadline, Maddon explained why he doubled-switched Castro out of Tuesday’s 7-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies – primarily to keep Chris Coghlan’s bat in the game – and gave the heads-up it would simply be a normal day off on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs have tried to gauge the market for Castro and it’s obvious they need to infuse the organization with more pitching. But Castro’s in the middle of an offensive spiral (.576 OPS), doesn’t have a reputation as a great defender and still gets almost $40 million guaranteed across the next four seasons.
It doesn’t sound like Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department is on the verge of a blockbuster deal that would involve Castro going to the San Diego Padres or Philadelphia Phillies or some mystery team.
Castro still requested the meeting with Maddon after finding out he would not be in Wednesday’s lineup against Colorado.
“I want to be here,” Castro said. “I want to stay here.”
Castro – who’s played for five different managers during his first six seasons in the big leagues – felt the speculation getting in his head and appreciated the message from Maddon: “He told me: ‘Hey, relax, we want you here. You’re not going (anywhere).’”
Castro also admitted he wasn’t exactly sure if Maddon meant for the moment – or if he’s really safe through the deadline.
“I don’t know,” Castro said. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know. If on Friday something happens…”
Still, Castro said he wasn’t bothered by the idea of Cubs executives discussing his name in trade talks.
“No,” Castro said more than once. “Those guys have the last decision. I can’t do anything about it. Just try to come in here every day to work and do my best.”
The Cubs hoped Castro would raise his game after playing on fifth-place teams for five straight years. Even after a strong April, he’s still hitting only .237, or 47 points below his career average heading into this season. He’s also committed 17 errors and drifted at times on the field, reopening those questions about his focus.
“He’s been all over the map,” Maddon said. “This kid’s been a Cub. He’s really made his mark here. He’s been an All-Star here. He’s got a thousand hits here, almost.
“He’s 25. Again, I think people fail to remember that he’s really young, so to process this whole thing is not easy sometimes. We think it is, but it’s not if you’re caught up in the moment.
“Cut him a little slack there – and I do. We talk. I’ve had great conversations. I really like this kid a lot – not a little bit. I think he’s outstanding.”
With the Bears opening training camp in Bourbonnais, Maddon made Castro sound like another lightning rod in Chicago sports: Jay Cutler.
“When you’ve had that many offensive coordinators and head coaches for so many years, quarterbacks oftentimes become confused,” Maddon said. “It’s the same thing with young shortstops.”
Castro trusts Maddon and respects the coaching staff: “We got a great group. Everybody’s been unbelievable.” Castro didn’t sound ready for a change of scenery that might ultimately help reboot his career.
“The season’s going on,” Castro said, “I don’t even think about this kind of stuff.”
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Of course, these are fluid situations and Castro doesn’t have a no-trade clause. But Maddon understands he’s only as good as his word and uses the media to send messages to the clubhouse.
Plus, this would be selling at an absolute low point for a front office that likes to squeeze maximum value out of deals – and recognizes Castro’s work ethic and coachable nature, having his back through a series of off-the-field incidents.
“I’ve taken the time to really develop a relationship with him since spring training,” Maddon said. “When I speak to him, it’s eyeball to eyeball. I think he understands what I’m saying to him is very sincere.
“I’m totally supporting him and it’s just not working for him right now. I told him: ‘You’re really grinding it a little bit too hard. You need to back off just a little bit.’
“When you get the prodigy that really gets it younger – beautiful. But 26, 27, 28 – for me – in this industry is when players really start understanding the whole scope of what’s going on out there.”
And by now, Castro definitely knows this is a business.