What Starlin Castro’s return to Wrigley Field means for Cubs and Yankees

What Starlin Castro’s return to Wrigley Field means for Cubs and Yankees

Once upon a time, the Cubs put Starlin Castro on a billboard opposite Derek Jeter, using the New York Yankees to sell tickets to Wrigley Field during the 2011 season that would lead to a franchise reckoning.

In this upside-down world, the Cubs are now the rock-star team, box-office attraction and TV draw wherever they go, while the Yankees are now trying to copy elements from the defending World Series champs, getting younger, more athletic and building toward the future instead of throwing money at every problem.

Deep down on some level, this bothered Castro, who felt like he missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after taking a lot of heat for five fifth-place teams on the North Side. Trading Castro to the Yankees during the 2015 winter meetings allowed the Cubs to sign World Series MVP Ben Zobrist and “Embrace The Target.”

But at some point on Friday, the Wrigley Field sound system will blast “Ando En La Versace,” Castro’s walk-up song during that leap forward in 2015, when the Cubs won 97 games and two playoff rounds and the fans started rhythmically clapping for a lightning-rod player.

Still only 27 years old, a streaky hitter with great hand-eye coordination might finally be putting it all together. Castro is batting .362 with five homers and a .945 OPS and on pace for his fourth All-Star selection, helping lift the Yankees back into first place in the American League East and maybe accelerate their rebuilding plan.

“He was a great teammate here,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He was not an excuse-maker. When anything went poorly, he stood tall, I thought. You got to like everything about him, so I’m very happy for his success. I’m looking forward to saying hello to him.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will ride out boom-and-bust cycles with Javier Baez because the upside is so great]

Maddon remembered Castro sitting across from him in the manager’s office in the old Wrigley Field clubhouse when the Cubs decided to move Addison Russell to shortstop in August 2015. Instead of an awkward conversation that could have disrupted the team, Castro reacted to the news like a professional, transitioned to second base and finally experienced playoff baseball in Chicago.

“He didn’t blanch,” Maddon said. “He didn’t make an excuse. He didn’t cry. He didn’t scream: ‘What are you doing?’ Nothing. I said, ‘Listen, you’re not going to play for a couple days. I’m not quite sure how we’re going to get this working again. I want you to start working out at second base.’ Not a whimper.

“It was outstanding on his part. And he’s taken it and he’s run with it – literally – to the point now where he’s in a really good position with a very good ballclub. I know he can handle the big lights in New York.”

Castro might be one of the few players who could find The Bronx to be a less-intense environment, or at least a place where he could blend into the background more. Friday’s tribute to Castro will be a reminder of how good this generation of young Cubs has it – and why a stable big-market franchise can think about a Yankee-level dynasty.

Between his age-20 debut in 2010 and the 2015 National League Championship Series, Castro played for Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum, Rick Renteria and Maddon. During that time, Castro worked with at least seven hitting coaches – Rudy Jaramillo, James Rowson, Rob Deer, Bill Mueller, Mike Brumley, John Mallee and Eric Hinske – plus a manager with a strong offensive philosophy (Sveum) and Theo Epstein’s front office trying to implement a Cubs Way approach.

“It’s difficult for an organization – period – when you’re constantly changing things over like that,” Maddon said. “When you do the philosophy changes annually, it’s really a lot of mixed messages that occur. So a young guy like that, probably his best resource there was that he was so good that he was kind of immune to all this in some ways.

“I know the perception. Different people view things differently and maybe some of it was deserved. I’m not sure. But they had gotten on Starlin a little bit about different items.

“Again, my experience was that he was outstanding when we were together here. But it’s not easy, man, when you’re constantly changing coaches, managers. That kind of stuff is very unsettling for the group.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview


Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan talks with former Cubs front office executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on how to fix a major league roster, when to deal a player who is heading into free agency, and more

01:30 How he moved from MLB to being a scout in the NHL

04:30 How to fix a major league roster

06:40 On building the roster when other teams know your weaknesses

09:30 When to deal a player who is facing free agency

11:30 Balancing trying to win now vs. building a team for a sustained run

14:30 On how a GM can't depend only on signing a big free agent

18:00 On his time with the Cubs in the 1980s

19:45 On how a GM deals with Scott Boras

22:00 On how a GM deals with talk radio and the media

26:00 On how he almost got CC Sabathia on the Dodgers for 2008 playoff run

28:00 On how not trading for Ryan Dempster helped bring Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast


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Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If fans are feeling impatient waiting for the Cubs coaching staff to be finalized, the front office feels their anxiety.

Jed Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon at the MLB GM Meetings the Cubs hope to settle their coaching staff before the week is up, putting an end to what he joked has been a six-week human resources process.

Theo Epstein confirmed Monday Will Venable will be back as a base coach for the Cubs in 2020, though which base is not yet certain. Venable who interviewed for the managerial vacancy this fall, spent 2019 as the first-base coach for the Cubs, but also filled in at third base early in the season when incumbent Brian Butterfield dealt with vertigo. 

In addition to Joe Maddon, Mark Loretta (bench coach), Butterfield (third-base coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach) and Chris Denorfia (quality assurance coach) are also out.

That leaves the coaching staff as follows:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — open

It's actually been longer than six weeks since the Cubs informed Maddon they intended to move on from the World Series-winning manager, but it hasn't even been three weeks since the Cubs officially hired David Ross as the replacement. 

But the offseason is fully in gear now and the Cubs would like to turn their full attention to the roster.

"We'd love to get [the coaching staff] done by the end of the week," Hoyer said. "I don't know if that's realistic or not, but that'd be a great goal. We're starting to put together some meetings and stuff with those guys coming to Chicago, so it's not like we're not moving forward with stuff. But I do feel like it's time to have that locked down."

Ross has obviously had a say in the new additions to the staff, going through what Hoyer called a "crash course" in interviewing and hiring coaches. Ross doesn't have much experience working with Green — the most important of the new hires — but he has worked closely with Hottovy and Borzello in the past from his days as a player. He's also been around those guys and the other holdovers on the coaching staff while serving as a special assistant in the front office the last three seasons.

Still, Hoyer said the Cubs are cognizant of Ross' need to have somebody on the coaching staff he trusts. 

"You want guys to fill certain roles on your staff — coaching, strategy, etc." Hoyer said. "But there's also a camaraderie you want to create. There's a relationship with the manager that you want to give that manager. It's a really hard and lonely job at times. 

"Having someone on that staff that you trust that you've known from the past that you can vent to or grab a beer with or grab breakfast with and talk about it, I think that's really important."

Once the final two spots on the coaching staff are finalized, Ross can also turn his attention to pressing matters like immersing himself in the Cubs' behind-the-scenes processes with the research and development staff and the rest of the front office.

Ross has some knowledge of that from his front office work over the last three years, but he also was enjoying time in retirement with his family in addition to his duties as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN.

"The best way he can hit the ground running is just become really familiar with all of the stuff that we do in the office even beyond what he's already done," Hoyer said. "Using it as a great learning winter for spring training, it's really important from an organization standpoint and a message standpoint. I know he wants to hit the ground running and the best way to do that is to be in the office as much as possible to be able to map out spring training."