Nicholas Castellanos' attitude may be just what the Cubs need

Nicholas Castellanos' attitude may be just what the Cubs need

Prior to getting traded to the Cubs, Nicholas Castellanos was leading the American League in doubles.

Just a few games into his Chicago tenure, he's shown exactly why — hustling out of the box on balls hit down the right-field line in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, pushing the envelope and getting himself into scoring position.

"He's reminding us what hunger looks like," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the hustle. "This guy, he's really happy to be here and play in this ballpark and he wants to get to the postseason badly. I love what he's doing. Every day, conversationally, his work — everything about him indicates 'Let's go; I want to play in October.' And I love it."

Castellanos got a brief taste of postseason life with the Tigers in 2014, though he was only a 22-year-old rookie then and hasn't been back since. 

"He wants to win," Jason Heyward said. "That stands out to me most. ...He's just a person that comes in and understands you don't have a chance to win every season. We have a chance to win a ring and he wants to make the most of that, so it's appreciated."

When asked about his high-energy level by a Chicago media member over the weekend, he laughed and said he must be a good actor because he certainly doesn't always feel 100 percent. 

"Every day is Opening Day — that's the way I go about it," he said. "Just be the best version of yourself every day and even on days when that's hard...fake it."

That "every day is Opening Day" mindset can be a huge help in baseball, especially at this point in the long season for position players. But it also helps in a game predicated on failure, where even the best of the best still make an out nearly 70 percent of the time.

Castellanos said he learned how to deal with failure and slumps from Miguel Cabrera — the Tigers slugger and future Hall of Famer who has been one of the best right-handed hitters of the current generation.

"What I took away from him was how to be a kid playing baseball," Castellanos said. "A kid in backyard Wiffle ball never goes into a slump because he's having too much fun with that at-bat to worry about what's happening. That's me."

Maybe the Cubs need a little bit of that right now. 

They already have another fun-loving kid in the everyday lineup in Javy Baez and as the Cubs try to figure out how to put their road struggles behind them and stop playing so tight and more free, maybe it's Castellanos' attitude as well as his bat that could help the team moving forward.

"That's the way it should be," Maddon said. "But are you gonna get everybody to be that way? No. It's just where you came from, how you were raised and the influences that you've had. And he's had good influences.

"The guy's focused during every conversation he has, beyond being focused for every pitch, which I'm seeing so far. He's been very interesting and entertaining already and I love that Miguel had told him that and I'm glad that he's taken to that. Because that's the only way to play this game. Javy plays that way all the time. 

"You just gotta go out there and play and let it fly a little bit and you can't worry about mental mistakes. Physical mistakes are gonna happen. So I love that [mindset]."

Add that attitude in with the natural bump that comes when you jump from last place in the standings to a legitimate contender and it's the perfect mix for Castellanos right now. We saw the same thing with Cole Hamels last year when he came over to Chicago after a tough year with the Texas Rangers.

"It's definitely a boost of energy, that's for sure," he said. "We weren't exactly having the best year over there. And as a competitor, you take pride in winning. I don't think I love winning; I hate losing. So when our record was whatever it was, it can become a drag and you really gotta fake it.

"So to come over here where you're in the middle of it and you have fans behind you and you have a clubhouse like this and facilities like this, faking it is very easy."

Be ready for anything: Cubs open to all trade avenues this winter

Be ready for anything: Cubs open to all trade avenues this winter

While Cubs fans sit on the edge of their seats waiting to see if Theo Epstein's front office trades away a core player — and which guy that might be — the question has really become more of a when

Both because it seems likely Epstein shakes up this Cubs roster this winter and because there's natural curiosity about the timing of such a move. 

If the Cubs don't get the type of return they're seeking for players like Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant, they are not going to trade just for trade's sake. But it's clear the roster needs a change and the front office has also shifted a good amount of focus on the long-term future of the organization — beyond 2021, when most of the core players are set to hit free agency.

As for when a major trade may come down, there's really no indication on that front. The MLB Hot Stove season has taken longer and longer to get going in recent winters and that very much appears to be the case again this 2019-20 offseason as many teams — including the Cubs — have just recently finalized their coaching staff and key front office hires.

At the GM Meetings last week, the Cubs said they were in the early stages of any offseason moves and had just started to exchange names with other teams about who is and isn't available.

They're not pigeonholing themselves into any one avenue for how the winter will play out.

"Sometimes you get a feel for the marketplace or kernels of ideas and they end up coming true and you look back and you're like, 'ah, that feel we had really matched the whole tenor of the offseason with certain teams,'" Epstein said. "Other times, you can go through a whole Russian novel's worth of twists and turns in an offseason depending on one or two player moves or clubs changing course or being able to execute things or not execute things. 

"We'll see. I think the important thing is to keep a really open mind and be prepared for all different permutations of how things can work out."

As for what shape the trades may come in, be ready for anything. 

The Cubs have said they still have no issues trading within the division, so even in a year where they're planning on competing in the wide-open NL Central, they're more concerned with improving their organization in the long run than worrying about potentially making a rival better.

Epstein also said they're not afraid of acquiring a player with only one year of team control left, as long as it makes sense. But there's no reason right now for the Cubs to mortgage the future to go all-in on 2020.

"It just depends on the player and the fit and the acquisition cost, and everything else," Epstein said. "I think we're like every team — to one extent or another, we're trying to balance an immediate future vs. a longer-term future. We knew that as we got closer to the end of the period of club control with some of our best players, we had to be increasingly mindful of if you put the longer-term future rather than just the short-term. 

"It's a bit of a transition for us, but it doesn't mean you rule anything out, even if it's something short-term. But you try to strike that right balance."

The Cubs also insist they're not locked into adding any one specific position or type of player. For example, they're not only looking to trade for centerfielders or leadoff guys — even if both are clear areas of need in the short-term.

Anything is on the table, which makes sense considering trading a core guy would also open up a hole elsewhere on the roster. If Contreras is dealt, the Cubs could feel pretty confident about Victor Caratini sliding into a larger role, but they would obviously need more catching depth both in the short- and long-term.

"I still think we have a lot of pieces that can move around the board a bit," Jed Hoyer said. "As we think about what we're gonna do [and] have conversations the whole winter, there's a big picture element to it where I think we're not gonna be entirely married to this position or that position — making moves that make sense both long-term and short-term. 

"We do have pieces that you can move around that makes us able to do that. We don't have particular holes that we feel like we have to spend the whole winter trying to fill, but rather we can make some moves maybe a little bit more strategically."

So the Cubs are saying all the right things, but what does that mean? 

For starters, it doesn't appear any major move is approaching on the horizon and regardless of what the first trade or free agent signing is, it will be just one piece to a larger puzzle. This is shaping up to be a crucial offseason in every aspect of the organization, so the final judgement of the winter will be the most important one.

But as the Cubs try to put that puzzle together and make their big-picture plans a reality, they're not going to get sidetracked by the incessant rumors and aim to continue trying to shield their players from a similar fate.

"We can't chase down every rumor," Hoyer said. "People are gonna put stuff out there about our guys and there's definitely some clickbait opportunity about our guys. We have a lot of guys who have been All-Stars and you can put a story out pretty easily that gets clicks. 

"One of the things about our players in general is we're in a big market, they're used to having their name in trade rumors, they're used to having their names out there. I think they have a sense of what's real and what's not real. But we can't chase down every rumor. We can't deny every rumor because we know that's going to happen. We have to live with that. We're not gonna add fuel to that fire, that's for sure."

Kris Bryant's big winter continues with baby announcement


Kris Bryant's big winter continues with baby announcement

Kris Bryant is in the midst of a potentially career-altering grievance case while trade rumors and contract extension talks continue to swirl around him.

Oh yeah, and he's about to be a father in April.

Talk about a life-changing winter for Bryant. 

Jess Bryant dropped a video on social media Tuesday morning showing pictures and videos of her and Kris throughout their relationship (including what looked to be a couple prom photos with a teenage "KB") and the minute-long video ended with a sonogram photo and the announcement that a baby boy is due April 2020:

Baby Bryant will be born a little over three years after Kris and Jess tied the knot.

That will be right as the regular season heats up for Bryant, who will be looking to build on a resurgent 2019 campaign that saw him hit 31 homers and post a .903 OPS while being named to the National League All-Star team and playing through persistent knee inflammation.

Bryant's long-term future with the Cubs is still in doubt but his agent, Scott Boras, confirmed they're open to listening on a contract extension and also shed some light on how unlikely it is that the Cubs would be able to recoup enough value in a deal to make trading the superstar worthwhile.

In the meantime, should we pencil Baby Bryant into the 2040 MLB top prospects list now or is that getting too far ahead of ourselves?