By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has thrown down gauntlet and benched starting shortstop Starlin Castro.READ MORE: Man Suffers Graze Wound To Head During Shooting In Little Village
In a move to incorporate his best offensive lineup, Maddon has Kyle Schwarber in left field, Addison Russell at shortstop and Chris Coghlan (the usual left fielder) playing second base. Although this mix is about offense, Maddon has wanted to move Russell over from second base to shortstop for some time.
Maddon has his team firmly entrenched in the playoff picture. He has said in the past he has six gears on his sports car and his managing of a club. Now, he’s not pulling any punches at this point of the season as the Cubs battle for a wild-card spot.
“Schwarber is the guy who really enacted this whole thing,” Maddon said about his rookie catcher, whose bat has been forced into left field after pounding National League pitching the past five weeks. “We had to find a way to keep him in the lineup. With Coghlan swinging the bat well, you try and see how this all can play. CC (Coghlan) has done this in the past and has been working a lot at second and third base. I have utilized input from all angles in making this decision.”
The Castro response to this sudden change was professional, according to Maddon.
“He was very professional,” Maddon emphasized. “He listened to me and was not upset. I am sure he was disappointed about the decision. He was very pro about the whole thing.”
Castro was told this wasn’t a benching but more a change that may occur often in the future. The Cubs have been dismayed with Castro’s all-around play this season. Besides the batting slumps, the team has been frustrated with balls that have played Castro and forced errors or runners beating groundballs out.
Russell is actually hitting worse than Castro, but the team feels his overall game his improving.READ MORE: Dixmoor Boil Order Remains In Effect As Crews Continue Work To Identify Source Of Weeklong Water Woes
“I have defended Starlin a lot,” Maddon said. “I think his work has been great. We are presented with a new set of circumstances based on personnel. You can’t look away. None of this is punitive by any means. This is about helping us win today’s game.”
The sensitivity issue of benching a three-time All-Star like Castro in the third year of a seven-year, $60-million contract is a concern for Maddon and the entire organization.
“You must be careful and honest,” Maddon said. “You must be careful how you do it and not be cavalier about making moves like this. When you do it, you must be upfront with the guy. You are sure to not paint any kind of obscure picture, where he has to read between the lines. He is a man. He can deal with it .We will be better for it, he will be better for it, too. Yes, you are always concerned about the emotional component. At the end of the day, it’s about the Cubs winning.”
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was also front and center to answer questions about the manager’s decision.
“This is Joe’s job, and he does it very well,” Epstein said. “The same way we talk to him before we make a personal move, he talks to us when he does something different.”
“It’s that time of the season, where the manager has to be able to put the team every single inning and game in a position to win. This isn’t any permanent move, but with the way Schwarber is swinging the bat, (Maddon) has to be able to play the matchups. He must play the hot hands and put the best team on the field.
Castro’s agent, Paul Kinzer, told CBSChicago.com that Castro was respected properly by the manager.
“Joe told Starlin this is not a benching but something he may be doing now,” Kinzer said. “Starlin said that he wants the best for the team and will work his hardest to regain his status.”MORE NEWS: Chicago Police Issue Alert Of Armed Robberies In Lincoln Park And Lake View
After 2015, Castro has $37 million left on his deal through 2019. The Cubs hold a $16 million team option on Castro for 2020.