As Cubs look for deals, Joe Maddon tells Starlin Castro: You’re not getting traded


As Cubs look for deals, Joe Maddon tells Starlin Castro: You’re not getting traded

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.

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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…”

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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.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

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.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?


2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.