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 chairman Tom Rickets gave David Ross the coolest decoration for his office

Cubs chairman Tom Rickets gave David Ross the coolest decoration for his office

There are cool office decorations, and their office decorations that blow casual ones out of the water.

A souvenir in Cubs manager David Ross' Wrigley Field falls into the latter category.

Ross posted photos on Instagram Saturday revealing he has the first W flag to hang over Wrigley after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series in his office. He says team chairman Tom Ricketts gave it to him for the office.

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Now, imagine what that flag would go for on eBay.

All jokes aside, you've got to think that flag will end up in some Cubs museum one day. For now, it's in safe hands.


2020 MLB season: Tracking players who have opted out or declined to play

2020 MLB season: Tracking players who have opted out or declined to play

With Major League Baseball attempting to play the 2020 season with COVID-19 afflicting the nation, players have the option to not participate this year. 

Those considered “high-risk” for the coronavirus — per MLB’s agreement with the MLBPA — can opt out and receive salary and service time. Those who are not can decline to play but may not receive salary and service time. Teams may offer both to players who live with high-risk individuals, however.

Here is a running list of players who will sit out this season:

Mike Leake — Diamondbacks pitcher

On June 29, Leake became the first player to announce he will sit out. His agent said he and his family took “countless factors into consideration.” MLB insider Jon Heyman said the right-hander will not be paid this season, meaning he doesn’t fall under the high-risk designation.

Leake was positioned to compete for a spot in Arizona’s rotation and will become a free agent if they decline his $18 million 2021 option.

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Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross 

Zimmerman joined Leake in announcing his decision on June 29. The longtime National cited family circumstances — three kids, including a newborn, and his mother being high-risk. He made it clear he is not retiring, but he's set to become a free agent after this season.

On the same day Zimmerman announced his decision, the Nationals revealed Ross also decided not to play. The club’s statement cited “the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones” in both players’ decisions. Ross is arbitration eligible through 2021.

Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond

Desmond also revealed he won’t play this year on June 29. He posted a powerful Instagram message discussing racial inequality in baseball, from Little League to MLB. It’s heartfelt and worth a read:

View this post on Instagram

On my mind.

A post shared by Ian Desmond (@i_dez20) on

Free agent pitcher Tyson Ross 

On July 2, Heyman reported Ross joined his brother Joe in deciding not to play. Tyson Ross was with the Giants and in contention for a swingman job before San Francisco released him in late June, shortly after MLB lifted its transaction freeze.

Nationals catcher Welington Castillo

Castillo became the third Nationals player to decide to sit out. Nationals manager Dave Martinez said on July 3 the former Cubs and White Sox catcher was hesitant to play because he has young children.

Dodgers pitcher David Price

Price announced on July 4 he will be sitting out this year, saying it’s in the “best interest of my health and my family’s health.” He joined Los Angeles over the offseason in a trade from the Red Sox with Mookie Betts.

Prior to his decision, Price donated $1,000 to every Dodgers minor leaguer in June.

Braves pitcher Félix Hernández

Hernández' agent announced on July 4 the former Cy Young Award winner will sit out this year. Hernández was vying for a spot in Atlanta’s rotation. 

Braves outfielder Nick Markakis

Markakis announced his decision to sit out on July 6. He said his family, as well as teammate Freddie Freeman contracting a rough case of COVID-19, influenced his thinking.

“Just to hear him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough, it was kind of eye-opening,” Markakis said of Freeman.

Pirates pitcher Héctor Noesí

The Pirates revealed on July 8 Noesí elected not to play for family reasons. He was on a minor league deal.

Giants catcher Buster Posey

Posey, the Giants longtime backstop and three-time champion, revealed Friday he won’t be playing this year. The 33-year-old and his wife recently adopted premature twin girls.

White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech

The White Sox announced Friday evening Kopech will not play this year. The 24-year-old hadn’t arrived at Summer Camp due to personal reasons prior to Friday’s news.

MORE: White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech decides not to participate in 2020 season

"Michael Kopech has informed us of his decision to not participate in the 2020 season," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. "We recognize that reaching this decision is incredibly difficult for any competitive athlete, and our organization is understanding and supportive.

"We will work with Michael to assure his development continues throughout 2020, and we look forward to welcoming him back into our clubhouse for the 2021 season."