Cubs

Domino effect: Cubs sign Ben Zobrist for $56 million and trade Starlin Castro to Yankees

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Domino effect: Cubs sign Ben Zobrist for $56 million and trade Starlin Castro to Yankees

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The dominos started falling for the Cubs on Tuesday night, signing Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million deal, flipping Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees and keeping options open for another major move at the winter meetings.

The Cubs did all this in concert at the Opryland, landing the super-utility guy who’s been one of Joe Maddon’s all-time favorite players and trading a three-time All-Star shortstop for pitcher Adam Warren and a player to be named later (reportedly infielder Brendan Ryan).

The Cubs tried to acquire Zobrist twice within the last year – but couldn’t make a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland A’s – and needed to get creative to pull off this deal.

The Yankees were the only team willing to pay the price for Castro – who’s guaranteed $38 million across the next four seasons – and still give up a useful piece in return.

In Zobrist, the Cubs get a switch-hitting leadoff guy (.355 career on-base percentage) who can set the table for Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and set an example for Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. Zobrist can take over at second base and still give Maddon options all over the infield and outfield.

In Warren, the Cubs get a 28-year-old right-hander they believe will benefit from getting out of the American League East and stick as a starter at a time when the price for pitching is skyrocketing. Warren went 7-7 with a 3.29 ERA in 43 games (17 starts) for the Yankees this year and remains under club control for three more seasons.

[RELATED: Maddon sees Baez and Soler as building blocks, not trade chips]

In reshaping a 97-win team that got swept out of the National League Championship Series by the New York Mets – a contender that had made Zobrist a primary target in free agency – the Cubs wanted to change their offensive profile, improve the overall defense and add even more veteran leadership to the clubhouse.

The Zobrist connections are obvious, from geography to personal history to future possibilities. He grew up in downstate Illinois, attended Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais and keeps a home in the Nashville area. He earned two All-Star selections and developed into one of the game’s most valuable and versatile players on Maddon’s Tampa Bay teams.

“It permits you to do so many different things with your lineup daily,” Maddon said. “When you have a (super-utility) guy, part of that is the selfless attitude of the player. Not everybody is suited to that for two reasons: They’re not comfortable moving around or their ego doesn’t permit them.

“Zo, from Day 1, he’s always been accepting of that. He’s all about winning.”

Zobrist thrived after a midseason trade to the Kansas City Royals, hitting .303 with an .880 OPS in 16 playoff games and helping another maturing, homegrown core win a World Series title.

“Look at what Zobrist did in the postseason,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “This move wasn’t based on the postseason. Our evaluation wasn’t based on the postseason. But facing the best pitching in the world, in the most competitive environment, he worked really good at-bats, put the ball in play when it needed to be put in play, drove the ball when it needed to be driven and found his way on base a lot.

“Those kind of winning, competitive at-bats are what we’re looking for (and) it sets a great example for the young hitters that we have. We haven’t had that really polished, veteran hitter who can go out, day in, day out, and set a great example of grinding every pitch and working an at-bat. (If) you’re hitting behind him in the lineup, you’ll see how he attacks an at-bat. You can’t help but get better.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs still needed to trade Castro, who didn’t whine or complain when Russell took over at shortstop in August, reinventing himself as a second baseman and coming close to 1,000 hits before his 26th birthday.

The Yankees believe Castro can handle The Bronx and might raise his game while playing in pinstripes, part of the franchise’s overall youth movement while waiting for the Alex Rodriguez/Mark Teixeira/CC Sabathia megadeals to expire.

Zobrist – who will be 35 in May – gets a no-trade clause for the first three years of the deal and a $2 million signing bonus. The rest of the contract breaks down like this annually through 2019: $10 million; $16 million; $16 million; $12 million.

“We expressed our interest and asked him to be patient,” Epstein said. “We couldn’t act right away, but we had a lot of interest and if the right corresponding move came our way, we could get involved quickly. As it turned out, we (got) one phone call just in time to help it pick back up."

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers. 

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at ChicagoSunTimes.com.

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.