NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Even through all the ups and downs in Chicago, Starlin Castro still dreamed about being on the Cubs team that finally won it all.
Castro got closer than anyone predicted this year, watching the big crowds at Wrigley Field come alive again and clap along to his walk-up song, “Ando En La Versace,” unscripted moments that weren’t focus-group-tested on season-ticket holders.
But Castro won’t be around to see the rebuild all the way through, traded to the New York Yankees on Tuesday for pitcher Adam Warren and a player to be named later (reportedly infielder Brendan Ryan), the trigger the Cubs needed to sign super-utility guy Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million contract.
The Yankees aren’t the kings of the winter meetings anymore, sitting out the bidding wars for big-name free agents and trying to build a deeper roster with more flexibility and athleticism while waiting out some huge contracts.
For Cubs fans, it feels like Castro has been around forever, but he is still only 25 years old, a three-time All-Star and a versatile defender with 991 career hits already on his resume.
“We want to get younger,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said inside the Opryland bubble. “We want to obviously improve in areas of need with younger, controllable pieces that we believe are performers. And I think he checks all those boxes.”
The Yankees needed up-the-middle options, could absorb the $38 million Castro is guaranteed across the next four years and kept an open mind about a player with some perception issues. Jim Hendry — the former Cubs general manager who promoted Castro from Double-A Tennessee to the big leagues in 2010 — is a special assistant to Cashman.
Castro had occasional mental lapses and made some headlines with a few off-the-field incidents, but he will ultimately be remembered for the way he handled Addison Russell taking over at shortstop in August. Castro accepted his new role at second base, got hot again and helped the Cubs win 97 games and two playoff rounds.
“I don’t think any factor of change of scenery is necessary,” Cashman said. “He proved what he could do with the position switch there. I thought he was one of the big reasons they really propelled into the playoffs the way they did.
“He was flying with his performance once he got over to second base (and in a) pressure situation had a good postseason. So I don’t think he needs a change of scenery at all. Just let him settle in and be an everyday second baseman.”
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The Cubs tried to move Castro before the July 31 trade deadline and watched him pass through waivers in August, when the difficult decision might have been to simply dump the contract if another team claimed him.
But a late-season surge convinced the Cubs that they wouldn’t just give Castro away. The Cubs made another pitch to the Yankees at the beginning of the offseason, and the talks started up again when team president Theo Epstein got a phone call here in Nashville.
Castro signed with the organization nine years ago, as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic, and became the lightning rod as the Cubs trudged through five fifth-place seasons.
Castro almost always stood at his locker answering questions and taking the heat, burning to be in the lineup and play every day, something he learned from another old Yankee, Alfonso Soriano, who absorbed those lessons from Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams in New York.
Now Castro starts the rest of his baseball life at Yankee Stadium, and that might be the best thing for him.
“He really grew up in this organization,” Epstein said. “He went through a lot here, made tremendous positive contributions to help get us to where we are. So it’s certainly a bittersweet feeling with some sadness that we see him go. I wish him nothing but the best for him and his family in New York and wearing the pinstripes, where I believe he’ll thrive.”