MIAMI (AP) — Starlin Castro will be in the Miami Marlins’ lineup on opening day, standing out like an All-Star on a Triple-A team.
Amid the tumult created by new CEO Derek Jeter’s offseason salary dumping, the acquisition of Castro drew relatively little notice. With four All-Star Game invitations and a $10 million contract, he’s an odd fit for a rebuilding team that will be hard pressed to avoid a 100-loss season.
But Castro will be at second base Thursday against one of his former teams, the Chicago Cubs. And he’s on board with Jeter’s plan.
“I’ve been part of this before,” Castro says. “Everybody sees how Chicago did it. They started out with the young guys, and in two or three years, you’re World Series champions.”
Castro played with the Cubs when they went from a 96-loss team in 2013 to the National League Championship Series two years later. He was then traded to the New York Yankees, but the Cubs continued their ascent, winning the World Series in 2016 to end a 108-year drought.
Now they’re hoping for a fourth consecutive trip to the NLCS — and another World Series title.
The Marlins, meanwhile, are at the other end of the food chain. They’ve endured eight consecutive losing seasons and a 14-year playoff drought, and both streaks are expected to continue in 2018. With four regulars from last year gone, including NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins’ payroll is down to around $90 million. That’s less than half the Cubs’ projected $183 million.
But like Castro, third-year manager Don Mattingly applauds the franchise’s direction under Jeter.
“It’s kind of a coach’s dream, doing an organization from the bottom up,” Mattingly said. “There’s a feeling you’re on the ground floor of something that’s going to be exciting.”
“This is what you dream about, making your big league debut last year and making it on the roster and having your name in the opening day line up,” said Chad Wallach who is starting as catcher in place of the injured J. T. Realmuto.
Garret Cooper is also excited, he’ll start in right instead of Giancarlo Stanton.
“You just kinda gotta stay ready, you know, just be ready for it. You know you’re going to have some nervous energy, if you don’t it’s probably not a good thing,” he said.
Fan allegiance at the opener will be of interest, given the Cubs’ rabid following everywhere, and South Florida skepticism about Jeter’s pledge to build a winner.
“Words are cheap,” Mattingly acknowledged. “I can tell the fans, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ They’re probably like, ‘OK, whatever.’ But until we prove it … ”
The Jeter regime will debut when Miami right-hander Jose Urena makes his first opening day start against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester. While that’s a competitive pitching matchup, there’s otherwise no comparison in the two rotations.
The Cubs signed right-hander Yu Darvish to a $126 million, six-year contract in February, and he joins a talent-rich rotation that also includes Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.
The Marlins, meanwhile, have a thin rotation that became even shakier when right-hander Dan Straily was sidelined by forearm inflammation that will force him to begin the season on the disabled list. Following Urena, the starters against the Cubs will be Caleb Smith, Odrisamer Despaigne and Dillon Peters, who have a combined career record of 12-24.
While expectations are low for the Marlins, the Cubs hope to get off to the kind of start that propelled them all the way to a championship in 2016. They began that year 25-6, while last season they didn’t climb above .500 to stay until mid-July — and then lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games in the NLCS.
Though the Cubs have yet to play their opener, they’re already thinking about a better postseason result.
“I think we’re going to be more well-rounded this year overall as an offensive group,” the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist said. “There’s a concerted effort to hit that kind of pitching that might present itself to us throughout the course of the season, especially late in the season, and that post-season type of pitching.”
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