The catch to Castro's Rookie of the Year push

The catch to Castro's Rookie of the Year push

Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010
8:11 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MIAMI This isnt the Heisman Trophy race, where one highlight-reel moment can change voters minds and win a player the award. But Starlin Castros run from shortstop, full-extension leap across the left-field grass and basket catch diving into foul territory felt like something the Cubs would want to put on a billboard.

Castro is still more than six months away from being able to legally enjoy the Presidente beer his teammates were sipping late Friday night inside the clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium.

The mood might have been different if he hadnt tracked down that ball to end the game. Instead of lining up for high fives after a 2-0 victory, Carlos Marmol would have had to deal with the two Florida Marlins he walked in what would have been a one-run game.

That saved the game not me, Marmol said with a laugh. Hes good. Hes going to be (better) as soon as he finds (more) confidence at shortstop.

At 20, Marmol was pitching in rookie-league ball, trying to figure things out as a converted catcher, with no realistic expectation that he would become a dominant closer. Thats what the Cubs are trying to remind everyone. This will be a process.

Castros defensive instincts were apparent in the ninth inning, but so were his flaws in the seventh and eighth, when he booted a ball into the outfield and bobbled another on a double-play turn.

Sometimes you get scared, you dont want the ball hit to you, Castro said through interpreterthird-base coach Ivan DeJesus. The only way I can figure it out is to concentrate on the next hitter and try to make a play after that.

Castro didnt get in front of a ball hit to his left on Saturday night and committed his 27th error. There will be spectacular catches as well as the lapses in concentration that recently led manager Mike Quade to bench him for two games.

We talk so much about making the plays from six-to-eight feet, left-to-right, making the grinding, routine plays every day, Quade said. If he combines that (with his athleticism), then hes going to be a phenomenal player.

Quade managed Miguel Tejada, a future American League MVP, on his way up through the Oakland system. The As shortstop had 26 errors in 104 games during his first extended stay in the majors, which came at the age of 24.

Derek Jeter, then 22, finished with 22 errors in 157 games during his Rookie of the Year season in 1996. Ten years later, Hanley Ramirez, who was 22 at the time, committed 26 errors in 154 games and won the award.

On Saturday night Castro played in his 112th game since being promoted from Double-A Tennessee on May 7. He entered Saturday hitting .309 three plate appearances shy of qualifying for the National League leader board and .344 since the All-Star break.

When the ballots are due, voters will have to weigh that against Castros defensive issues, which will be hard to ignore, as well as a strong crop of rookies.

Atlantas Jason Heyward (.2881871) and San Franciscos Buster Posey (.3221461) are performing in pennant races. Floridas Gaby Sanchez (.2791878) is another reliable run-producer. St. Louis has been thinking about shutting down left-hander Jaime Garcia (13-8, 2.70), but his numbers deserve consideration.

Castro, who for perspective began last season at Class-A Daytona, says he isnt thinking about the Rookie of the Year award. No matter the results, hell be forced to grow up quick. This patience wont last forever.

Hes 20 years old, but he acts like a man, Alfonso Soriano said. He knows what he wants to do.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

The Cubs signed Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million contract on Friday, placing a small bet on a lefty specialist who spent parts of last season on the Triple-A level but made a good enough impression during his 13-plus innings with the Baltimore Orioles.

As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. (As expected, the Cubs offered contracts to arbitration-eligible pitchers Arrieta, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm before Friday’s deadline. Their 40-man roster stands at 35 after non-tendering lefties Gerardo Concepcion and Zac Rosscup, right-hander Conor Mullee and infielder Christian Villanueva.)

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

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The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

Lefty reliever Brett Cecil getting a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals became another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline.

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

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When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.