Cubs

Cubs: Starlin Castro making a case to stay at shortstop

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Cubs: Starlin Castro making a case to stay at shortstop

PITTSBURGH – The Addison Russell news hadn’t broken yet when Starlin Castro stood in front of his locker late Monday night and spoke with reporters inside PNC Park’s visiting clubhouse.

But it’s clear a three-time All-Star won’t give up his position without a fight. One of his goals this year is to win a Gold Glove.  

“I have good talent to be a good shortstop,” Castro said after a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I don’t want to be no joke anymore.”

Manager Joe Maddon and winning pitcher Jake Arrieta both went out of their way to praise Castro, who made a diving stop to his left in the first inning and threw out Pittsburgh leadoff guy Josh Harrison, reminding you that he can still elevate his game.

[SHOP: Buy a Starlin Castro jersey]

“I saw something out of him tonight that I hadn’t seen in awhile,” Arrieta said. “He seemed to have more of an aggressive nature about him tonight. He was fluid. Just tremendous at short.”  

Maybe there’s something to not playing on a fifth-place team. Maddon and his coaches have also challenged Castro to incorporate more defensive work into his pregame routine and get into attack mode.

“(Be) aggressive on every ball,” Castro explained. “Sometimes, the errors that I’ve made (in the past have come) because I don’t have the confidence and stay back with the ball. Now, I’ll be aggressive and challenge the ball.”

[MORE: Cubs calling up Addison Russell marking another aggressive move]

Maddon is the fifth manager in six seasons for Castro, who doesn’t have to be such a daily focus now on a team with bigger names and hotter prospects.

There’s also something to be said for knowing who’s in charge. Whether or not Castro stays at shortstop and Russell transitions to second base, there are ways for the Cubs to make those pieces fit together.

“I feel different,” Castro said. “That’s the most important thing – the confidence that the manager gives to us. That’s the best way that you learn your talent is (coming together). Don’t think about anything. Just go out there and play. And we’re having fun.”

Kyle Schwarber tops off big 2019 by marrying longtime girlfriend Paige Hartman

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USA TODAY

Kyle Schwarber tops off big 2019 by marrying longtime girlfriend Paige Hartman

2019 has been a momentous year for Kyle Schwarber.

On the diamond, Schwarber had a career season, posting career highs in home runs (38) and RBIs (92). Something clicked for him offensively post-All-Star break, as he slashed .280/.366/.631 while hitting 20 homers.

Schwarber topped that off in a big way Saturday, marrying longtime girlfriend and highschool sweetheart Paige Hartman. Take a look at some visuals from the event:

Here's to a lifetime of happiness for the couple!

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Cubs free agent focus: Hyun-Jin Ryu

Cubs free agent focus: Hyun-Jin Ryu

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

As the Cubs look to fill out their starting rotation, it’s extremely unlikely Gerrit Cole will be joining the North Siders via free agency.

Or Stephen Strasburg.

Or Madison Bumgarner.

As the top starters available, Cole, Strasburg and Bumgarner are set to receive lucrative contracts out of the Cubs’ price range. But if Theo Epstein and Co. are looking to acquire a top-of-the-rotation arm, left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu is a much more affordable option.

Ryu was one of the best starters in baseball last season, winning the National League ERA title (2.32) en route to being named a Cy Young Award finalist. He made 29 starts and tossed 182 2/3 innings, the second-best totals of his career.

The question with Ryu isn’t whether he’ll pitch well; he holds a career 2.98 ERA and 1.164 WHIP in 126 games (125 starts). The question each season is whether he’ll stay healthy.

Ryu missed all of 2015 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He returned in July 2016, making a single start before hitting the shelf with left elbow tendinitis. He underwent a debridement procedure — like Yu Darvish last offseason — in September 2016.

Granted, Ryu has largely remained healthy since 2017. He made 24 starts that season, missing a little time with contusions in his left hip and left foot. A right groin strain kept him out for two months in 2018, though he posted a dazzling 1.97 ERA in 15 starts.

Nonetheless, teams will be wary of what they offer Ryu this offseason. The last thing you want is to sign a pitcher in his mid-30s to a long-term deal, only for him to go down with a serious arm issue. Ryu hasn't had any serious arm issues since 2016, but any injury concern is valid for the soon-to-be 33-year-old.

All negatives aside, there’s a lot to like about Ryu. He excels at inducing soft contact and ranked in the top four percent in baseball last season in average exit velocity-against (85.3 mph). Ryu doesn’t walk many batters (3.3 percent walk rate in 2019; 5.4 percent career) and strikes out a solid number (22.5 percent rate in 2019; 22 percent career).

Signing Ryu would give the Cubs three lefty starters, but that’s been the case since mid-2018, when they acquired Cole Hamels (who recently signed with the Braves). The rotation would have more certainty moving forward, too, as Jose Quintana will hit free agency next offseason. Jon Lester could as well, though he has a vesting option for 2022 if he tosses 200 innings next season.

The Cubs hope young arms Adbert Alzolay and top prospect Brailyn Marquez will contribute in the rotation for years to come. Alzolay may be on an innings limit next season and Marquez is at least a season away from making his MLB debut.

The Cubs have a rotation opening now and need to bridge the gap to their young arms for the next few seasons. Every free agent comes with question marks, and Ryu is no exception, but he is a frontline starter when healthy. He’d be a solid addition to the Cubs staff, and it won't take as big of a deal to sign him as others.

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