Cubs

Cubs vs. Yankees: The differences Joe Maddon sees in Starlin Castro

Cubs vs. Yankees: The differences Joe Maddon sees in Starlin Castro

Dale Sveum – the third of five Cubs managers Starlin Castro played for – once downgraded the All-Star shortstop as a “hit collector” and dropped him to eighth in the lineup for a 96-loss team in 2013. 

From the window to contend slamming shut on the win-one-for-Tribune-Tower group to Theo Epstein taking over baseball operations, Castro worked with at least seven hitting coaches between 2010 and 2015. Throughout that cycle of hiring and firing and laying the foundation for a championship team, Cubs officials tried to project Castro as an offensive force, hoping for sharper focus, some patience and more explosive power.

The New York Yankees believe certain players can handle the bright lights and the big city and will raise their game while wearing the pinstripes. That faith in Castro – plus the financial muscle to absorb $38 million guaranteed and the Cubs needing to make room at second base for future World Series MVP Ben Zobrist – drove the deal at the 2015 winter meetings.  

Always a streaky hitter, Castro woke up on Sunday – the seven-year anniversary of his 6-RBI debut in Cincinnati – leading the American League with a .381 average and living up to the batting-title potential he flashed as a rookie. The guy who never hit more than 14 homers in a season with the Cubs already has six after the Felix Pena pitch he launched on Saturday night landed near the top of Wrigley Field’s left-field bleachers.   

“He’s really inside the ball right now,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Even the home run, he just hit a hanging slider. If he was trying to hook that ball, he would not have kept that fair. He’s really staying inside the ball well. You saw a lot of balls up the middle, opposite field. That’s when he’s at his best. 

“He looks like he’s in better shape. He’s running really well. I like the guy a lot – not a little bit. I’m hoping that he sustains it all year. You’re seeing Starlin at the top of his game. 

“But I think, for me, physically, he looks better. He looks like he is in better shape. I don’t know if that’s true or not. He just looks better and he’s moving really well. And that’s, I think, part of why you’re seeing him swing the bat so well.”    

Castro’s 0-for-8 on Sunday night/Monday morning included two RBI groundouts, including the 96-mph Pedro Strop fastball he hit in the 18th inning to drive in the game-winning run in a 5-4 win that became the exclamation point to a sweep of the defending World Series champs.

Castro will never become the type of grinding hitter who defined those old Boston Red Sox teams, but being a “hit collector” is still extremely difficult at a time of Big Data, defensive shifts, video libraries and specialized bullpens. Castro already has 15 multi-hit games this season, with at least one in 23 of his last 26 games.  
  
“He’s had a lot of big hits for us,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He loves to play the game. Those are the kind of things you can see sometimes from afar. But there’s a toughness there with Starlin that I’ve seen that impresses me.”

No doubt, all those experiences in Chicago shaped Castro, who hit cleanup for a first-place team that led the AL in runs scored, homers, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. 

“They’re playing as good as they can right now,” Maddon said. “They have a lot of guys having a career year right now for the first month, guys that the back of their bubblegum card does not necessarily match up to what they’re doing right now. But that doesn’t say that they can’t sustain it. There are some really interesting players (who) have made adjustments at the plate.” 

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan gives his thoughts on what a Javier Báez extention could look like. He also discusses how Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox increases Willson Contreras' trade value.

1:25 - Will Cubs and Javy Báez agree on a contract extension?

3:44 - If Báez doesn't want to commit long term, do Cubs trade him now?

6:15 - Kap gives his proposed deal that Báez could accept.

8:41 - Will Cubs lock up other key players with same type of mentality?

10:52 - Will Cubs be willing to trade Willson Contreras?

11:55 - With Grandal to the White Sox, teams might be more willing to part with their best prospects with Contreras in a deal.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

The Cubs are one of several teams interested in Korean left-handed starter Kwang-hyun Kim, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required).

Kim, 31, has pitched with SK Wyverns in the KBO League since 2007. The team posted him on Friday, meaning he’s free to negotiate with all 30 MLB clubs. Kim was also posted in 2014, but the system between MLB and KBO has changed since then.

When KBO teams posted their players prior to 2018, interested MLB teams submitted blind bids for the exclusive right to negotiate with the player. The highest bidding MLB team had 30 days to negotiate a contract with the player if the KBO team viewed the bid as reasonable.

If the KBO player agreed to a big-league contract, the KBO team pocketed the bid. If he and the MLB team didn’t come to terms, the MLB team received their bid back. The Padres submitted the highest bid for Kim in 2014 ($2 million) but the two sides didn’t agree to terms.

The new system —  introduced in July 2018 — is much simpler: if a posted KBO player signs with an MLB team, his KBO team receives a transfer fee based on the size of his MLB contract. As was the case with the old system, players have 30 days to negotiate an MLB deal.

Got all that?

In 12 KBO seasons, Kim holds a 3.27 ERA in 298 games (276 starts) with 1,456 strikeouts in 1,673 2/3 innings. According to Sung Min Kim of the Lotte Giants (also KBO) R&D department, Kim’s repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, an upper 80s slider with a sharp break and a slow curveball averaging 69 mph.

The KBO is a lower level of competition than MLB, but Kim could fill a hole on the Cubs’ pitching staff as a starter, reliever or both.

The Cubs have an opening in their rotation after not tendering Cole Hamels a qualifying offer (a one-year deal worth $17.8 million). That would’ve been very enticing for Hamels, but the Cubs payroll is already projected to be $219.8 million in 2020, not including any potential offseason acquisitions.

Hamels could return to the Cubs in free agency at a cheaper salary, but Tyler Chatwood is already under contract for 2020 at $13 million. Chatwood enjoyed a resurgent 2019 season as a reliever/occasional spot starter and has earned the right to compete for the No. 5 rotation spot next season, should Hamels sign elsewhere.

But with or without Chatwood in the bullpen, the Cubs will need to address their relief corps this offseason. The bullpen struggled to pitch in high leverage spots in 2019, and Steve Cishek, Derek Holland, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop are all free agents. And as things currently stand, Kyle Ryan is the only lefty reliever penciled into the 2020 Opening Day bullpen.

Kwang is experienced and would fill at least one need on the Cubs roster. The Cubs doing their due diligence on him can't hurt.

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