There are a lot of recent former Chicago Cubs players you could say deserve a World Series ring.
Of course, there are the obvious ones – the guys who quite literally played on the 2016 championship team before departing in the offseason. But there are also less obvious, but clearly impactful ones. There are guys like Jeff Samardzija or Andrew Cashner or Scott Feldman, who were traded for key pieces on the championship team. Without Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, or Jake Arrieta, the Cubs probably don’t win that World Series. So … thanks, guys.
Then you start to get to even more tangential impacts, like the veteran leaders who came and went and helped shape a young club up and down the organization. The long-time Cubs who played for years and have stayed to support the organization long after their playing days (many of whom did rightfully get rings).
And then there’s Starlin Castro.
If there were a singular player face for the transitional era from the periodically-playoff-capable Cubs of the 2000s and the rebirth of the organization under the Theo Epstein regime, it’s Starlin Castro.
As a teenager, Castro was signed in the Dominican Republic at a time when the big league Cubs were ramping up spending to show signs of contention in advance of a sale by the Tribune Company. He thus arrived on the big league stage, at just 20 years old, in the immediate aftermath of that ramp up and sale, and played with the big league team through the consequences of decisions that were made for years and years that preceded his arrival. In fact, the three years before Castro arrived, the Cubs had won at least 83 games each year. Until the final of his six years with the big league team, they didn’t win more than the 75 they did in his first season.
The new front office took to Castro in 2012 and 2013, seeing a player with so much offensive potential at a premium defensive position. If Castro could just learn a little more selective aggression at the plate, his power would be significantly increased, and he would finally start taking some walks as a byproduct. Together with his in-born contact ability, he would quickly become the kind of superstar who not only merited the sizable extension he was given, but also turned it into a bargain.
That was not to be. We remember how things played out: the swing and approach changes did not take, he suffered through a disastrous 2013 season, and his contract became an anchor the front office was seemingly all too interested in moving.
It took a rebound in 2014 and a late surge on a playoff-bound team in 2015 to make Castro even passably tradable once again. And, despite that rebound in late 2015, and the taste of the playoffs, we as observers entered that offseason knowing that Castro was probably going to be moved. Addison Russell had arrived. Kris Bryant had arrived. Javy Baez was developing. The days ahead were bright for that 2015 Cubs team, but the future did not have an obvious place for Starlin Castro.
Unlike some of the other Cubs traded during the rebuild, you can’t quite say the Castro trade directly contributed to the 2016 championship team. Sure, moving Castro out allowed the Cubs to bring in Ben Zobrist – both from a financial and logistical perspective – but the actual Castro trade netted the Cubs only Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan, the latter of whom never played for the team, and the former of whom was a dramatic disappointment. Warren was ultimately traded as part of a package for a piece that very much did help the Cubs win a championship (Aroldis Chapman), but if we were dolling out rings to former Cubs for their central role in a given trade, the Chapman ring would have to go to Gleyber Torres, not Adam Warren.
Still … it feels like Castro deserves to be part of this championship. It was a title that was not some random, one-off, mercenary-built championship. It was the product of many, many years of rebuilding. Years during which Castro not only played for terrible Cubs teams, but also helped provide lessons about player development, about proper support systems, and about fan expectations.
Castro, now 27 but still baby-faced, returns to Wrigley Field today with the Yankees, a team doing its own youth-based rebuild – with great success in the early going, I might add, thanks in no small part to Castro, who is hitting .362/.402/.543.
Castro won’t receive a World Series ring, but he will receive a special recognition in a pre-game ceremony. He should also receive special recognition from the fans at Wrigley Field when he makes his first plate appearance, and I believe he will get it.