Cubs

Traded from Cubs, Starlin Castro starts over with Yankees

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Traded from Cubs, Starlin Castro starts over with Yankees

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.

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

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.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

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.”

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."