Cubs

Cubs: Starlin Castro wants to win now with Addison Russell

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Cubs: Starlin Castro wants to win now with Addison Russell

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs don’t have a shortstop controversy.

That doesn’t guarantee Starlin Castro will be the everyday shortstop from here until 2020. Or that Addison Russell is the long-term answer at second base. Theo Epstein’s front office will make more blockbuster trades and sign some big-name free agents, because that’s how this business works.

Right now, all Castro cares about is winning, not fending off the latest challenger to his position or wondering where exactly he fits in the big picture. He’s having too much fun to worry about those distractions.

“I don’t really think about this,” Castro said. “Just be ready to play every day, no matter what. We don’t have any control over that. Just come in here every day and try to play hard and help the team win.”

[MORE CUBS: The future is now for the Cubs and Addison Russell]

Castro stood in front of his locker with a big smile on his face after Tuesday’s 9-8 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. On a night where Russell was supposed to be the big story, Castro delivered a clutch hit with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.

Castro beat Pirates reliever Mark Melancon, chopping a two-run, game-tying single over the head of third baseman Josh Harrison. Castro went 3-for-5 with four RBIs, lifting his average to .352 and welcoming Russell to The Show.

“It’s good that we all are together now,” Castro said. “We’ve come a long way.”

Castro understands Russell can help him finally play for a team that finishes higher than fifth place. But the Castro trade rumors also started up again as soon as the Cubs acquired Russell from the Oakland A’s in last summer’s Jeff Samardzija deal.

[MORE CUBS: Starlin Castro making a case to stay at shortstop]

Russell came into this season as Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect and made such an impression in spring training that there’s a feeling he’s already the organization’s best defensive shortstop.

“This game answers its own questions,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I just think that it’s great to have multiple people capable of playing those different spots. Right now, you’re seeing Addison get experience at second base, of course, but his bat’s going to get big-league experience, which is really important.

“I’m honestly not worried about it. I really mean what I’m saying. Things will work its way out and the right answers will become more obvious as you move it further along.

“Right now, the opening’s presented right there (at second base). Because of his bat and how (Addison is as a person), he’s able to take advantage of that moment.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Starlin Castro jersey right here]

Castro is playing for his fifth manager in six seasons, but this one has the staying power of a five-year, $25 million contract. Castro also gets a little more breathing room now that the Cubs have added some established, invested veterans to their clubhouse.

Castro just keeps hitting at a time when Big Data is stifling offense with defensive shifts, in-depth scouting reports and specialized matchups. Again, this is someone who earned three All-Star selections before his 25th birthday and remains locked up with a reasonable contract that contains a team option for 2020.

“He’s been playing great,” Maddon said. “He’s come on. His defense has been really good. He’s been really good to his left, coming in on slower groundballs, throwing very accurately, getting up off the ground to his feet quickly and throwing the ball well.

“And then beyond that, he’s (producing) his typical offense. I’ve been really impressed with his overall game at shortstop.”

Now that the Cubs are trending upward, Castro is motivated to raise his game to another level.

“That’s the moment that we waited for – for a long time,” Castro said. “(We all want) to be here on one team. Why not? Now is the time.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.