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NEW YORK — The week begins with Starlin Castro back in Chicago, and it should end with Castro back in the All-Star Game.
The first barely matters. Castro went through all the back-home nostalgia last month at Wrigley Field. He and the New York Yankees will be on the South Side this time, playing the Chicago White Sox.
The All-Star part of the week? That should mean a lot for a player who came to the Yankees last year saying, “I just want to be the player I used to be.”
He is that player—the guy who was a three-time All-Star when he played for the Chicago Cubs. He should be an All-Star again when the teams are announced next Sunday. He’s a .300 hitter (.315), just as he was in his best years with the Cubs, among the league leaders in hits.
“The guy’s done nothing but hit,” said an admiring American League scout who has watched Castro closely throughout his career.
He is the player he used to be, maybe even a better and more consistent version of it. Castro had a great April and a strong May. Even after a tough last week, he’s hitting .295 in June.
“That’s one of the best parts—the consistency,” he said.
He has worked hard to maintain that, but he also stayed in the lineup while playing a month with a sore wrist. The Yankees decided to give him a cortisone shot Saturday, and Castro missed Sunday’s 7-6 loss to the Texas Rangers. He said afterward he’ll be back in the lineup against the White Sox on Monday night.
“He comes to play every day,” the scout said. “There’s something to be said for that, isn’t there?”
There’s a lot to be said for it, but by the end of Castro’s six years with the Cubs, it seemed there was more to be said about his inconsistency and his lack of patience at the plate. When the Cubs had a chance to sign Ben Zobrist after the 2015 season, they couldn’t wait to find a taker for Castro and the remaining $38 million on his contract.
But this isn’t a story about a Cubs mistake. It can’t be, not with a World Series title still fresh in everyone’s mind and with Zobrist, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ian Happ all available to play the infield spots that once belonged to Castro.
There’s no reason for regrets at Wrigley and no reason to do anything but celebrate when Castro is an All-Star. As Cubs manager Joe Maddon said last month to reporters, “I like the guy a lot.”
He’ll no doubt say the same when he and Castro are both in Miami for the All-Star Game.
Like him or not, though, the Cubs didn’t keep him. Castro was at a low point in his last year in Chicago—low enough that the “I just want to be the player I used to be” comment was easy to understand.
The trade has worked out for the Yankees, and it has worked out for Castro as well. The Yankees have allowed him to be a free swinger—his strikeout rate has been higher both years in New York than it ever was in Chicago—taking the swings and misses in exchange for the production that comes with it.
Besides, while Castro still strikes out and rarely walks—his 2017 walk rate of 4.8 percent is right at his career average—he is hitting the ball with enough authority to be productive. His weighted on-base average (wOBA), a FanGraphs stat designed to measure overall production, is .357, easily the best of his career.
“The last two years, he has looked under control,” the scout said. “He looks so much happier than the last two years in Chicago.”
Castro says he felt comfortable right away with the Yankees.
“Big team, big history,” he said.
He’s part of that history now, and he’s given the Yankees reason to believe he can be part of their next team that wins. They still hope that can happen this season, and even with 10 losses in their last 12 games, the Yankees remain percentage points ahead of the Boston Red Sox in first place in the American League East.
They have a chance, thanks in significant part to the second baseman who is at least the player he used to be.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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