We knew when the season ended with a thud in game four of the NLCS that it was last we’d see of THOSE Cubs. Â The free-wheeling, thrill-a-minute Cubs of 2015 would never be quite the same.
We knew that last week when the Cubs signed 2012 Husband of the Year John Lackey that things were really going to be different. Â But today it really hit home.
Theo traded our dearly beloved Starlin.
Sure, Starlin had his flaws. Â He never really figured out how to play defense with any kind of consistency. Â He wasn’t what you’d call fast, and he rarely stole bases. Â He never walked. Â He occasionally forgot how many outs there were, what team the Cubs were playing…you know, little stuff.
But he also was a three-time All Star1 who had almost 1,000 hits in his first six seasons in the big leagues.
And, for the longest time, he was all we Cubs fans had. Â The team was awful, but our shortstop was fun. Â Before even Anthony Rizzo showed up, there was Starlin. Â And most of us loved him.
Last year, he was awful. Â For a long stretch of the season, while the Cubs team around him was finally good, he was–maddeningly–the worst regular player in baseball2. Â The Cubs had to bench him and turn shortstop over to Addison Russell. Â They had tried to trade Starlin at the deadline and nobody wanted him. Â So they planted him on the bench.
But then they moved him to second base, and he was almost immediately cured. Â He hit .339 from August 1 to the end of the year. Â His biggest defensive flaw–that he didn’t cleanly pick a lot of grounders–wasn’t so bad at second, because he had more time and his plus-arm could bail him out. Â He was almost immediately proficient at making the turn on double plays at second.
It was fun to see Starlin be good again. Â He started rolling and so did the Cubs, and from the day the Cubs flipped him and Addison, until the Cubs knocked the Cardinals out of the playoffs3, Starlin was one of the most productive players in the game, and the Cubs were the best team.
On a weekend game against the Cardinals, Starlin hit two homers and got his first, and only, Wrigley Field curtain call of his career.
He was a key member of a really good team for the first time in his career. Â It was awesome to see.
But when the Cubs started taking their final turns at the plate in game four against the Mets, you wondered if this was going to be it for Starlin as a Cub. Â I think we all knew that it probably was. Â Then, when Gordon Wittenmyer reported Starlin had been told this offseason that he wouldn’t be traded, you knew he was gone.
And, it happened tonight. Â When 34-year old super utility player Ben Zobrist picked the Cubs’ four-year offer over a nearly identical one from the Mets, the Cubs pulled the trigger on a contingent trade of Starlin to the Yankees.
The move, especially in the short-term is a great one for the Cubs. Â Zobrist will play mostly second base, but he can also play third, right, left and even shortstop in a pinch. Â He’s a high on base average hitter (the Cubs don’t have very many of those) and he rarely strikes out (the Cubs have NONE of those). Â The Cubs will now keep Javy Baez and he’ll rotate around the infield and outfield, too.
Addison Russell is the future at shortstop. Â He’s a defensive whiz, who should make a leap on offense this year. Â And the minor leagues are never empty for these Cubs, and Gleyber Torres will likely get time at both high-A and AA next season.
Starlin, once the only valuable Cub, had become replaceable. Â As the talent level on the roster has grown at an exponential rate, his skillset became less and less necessary.
But that doesn’t make it suck any less. Â Starlin was a bridge from the Lou Piniella Cubs who couldn’t get it done in the playoffs to the Joe Maddon Cubs who already have to a great extent and figure to do better, and often. Â So we’ll miss Starlin. Â We’ll miss him because he is fun, and baseball needs more of it.
He’s going to the Yankees who need to get younger, and who need to loosen up a little.
And, it’s not like the current Cubs aren’t going to still be a blast. Â If you’ve got Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant on your team, you’re going to be pretty damned fun to watch. Â They’ll just be different.
And, most importantly, they’re going to be better. Â After all, that’s kind of the point of all of this.
So, so long, Starlin. Â See if you can get the Yankees to start rubbing their heads.
As for the Cubs? Â You have to credit Joe Maddon for the way he handled Starlin’s demotion, and kept Starlin positive, because Starlin’sÂ productive August and September are what salvaged hisÂ trade value. Â The pitcher the Cubs got in the deal, Adam Warren, is only 28 and has done a nice job both starting and relieving for the Yankees. Â He’ll be one of the cast of thousands (like Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Travis Wood, etc.) who will get a shot to win a rotation spot or go to the bullpen.
In a previous life, Theo traded Nomar Garciaparra when he was still a Red Sox icon, so trading Starlin in this situation didn’t make Epstein sweat. Â Theo is still at it, trying to figure out how to fill centerfield. Â Will he be bold and still go after Jason Heyward, or will he be more conventional and go short-term with somebody like Denard Span? Â With Zobrist able to bat one or two, the Cubs do not need the leadoff hitter and centerfielder to be the same guy (somebody explain to Dusty that it’s not pre-ordained).
But that’s another worry for another time. Â Getting Zobrist at what passes as a more than reasonable deal in 2015 was a coup for the Cubs. Â Moving on from Starlin was the right thing to do as well.
Jim Hendry is Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s top henchman, and this move has Hendry’s cruller residued fingerprints all over it. Â Starlin’s in good hands with the Yankees.
They’d damn well better take care of him.