Cubs

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

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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.

[RELATED - What’s next for Cubs after missing on Zobrist and Papelbon?]

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…”

[MORE - Beaten up by Rockies, Cubs need more pitching by trade deadline]

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.

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."