Future success starts now
All-Star Castro gives Cubs hope on the horizon; White Sox facing key stretch
CHICAGO -- I don't know if Jim Hendry or Josh Byrnes or Todd Ricketts will be the Cubs' general manager in two years.
I don't know if Ozzie Guillen or Cito Gaston or Steve Stone will be managing the White Sox in 2012.
I don't know if the Cubs will win a World Series before they win a coveted BP Crosstown Cup.
One thing I do know is that thanks to Starlin Castro, Jose Serra has a job for life.
Serra is the Cubs' director of Latin American scouting and he's probably the most popular person in the organization right now, because he's the guy who gets credit for Castro, who signed as a 16-year-old and motored through the organization like Ivan DeJesus was waving him around.
Serra, along with his boss, farm director Oneri Fleita, certainly makes Hendry's case to keep his job look better. A GM is only as good as his supporting cast, and Hendry's is now, finally, producing top-tier talent. (It probably doesn't hurt that Fleita's office is next to Tom Ricketts'.)
Castro made his first All-Star Game on Sunday, a fantastic accomplishment for the 21-year-old shortstop who becomes the youngest Cub to make an All-Star Game. It's quite a testament to the team's scouting department. Serra also is responsible for Carlos Marmol, albeit as a hitter.
"Anytime any scout signs a player and he reaches the level Starlin has reached at such a young age, you've got to tip your hat to the player," Fleita said. "But I tip my hat to the scouts. It's awesome. What a nice feather in Jose's cap."
So I guess you call Castro's All-Star nod an organizational victory. Somewhere Jerry Krause smiles.
While the Cubs may trail the White Sox in victories this season, not to mention World Series trophies this century, it's safe to say they can hang their hats on the fact their Dominican operation has a better reputation than the Sox's.
Surely, with more attention and money being devoted to a new Dominican academy, a point of emphasis that Tom Ricketts has embraced second only to a clean bathroom, the Cubs should get more young help in the future, which would allow them to stop relying on stopgap signings.
Of course, that's the dream, right?
It's tough to care about the Cubs' present right now, but Castro is pretty much the lone bright spot, unless you really dig Sean Marshall's work. After an RBI triple in the Cubs' 3-1 win over the White Sox on Sunday, Castro is hitting .312 with eight triples and 38 RBIs. It was his 33rd multihit game.
It's probably helpful he's coming of age at a time when the interest in this team is ebbing. He could hit .700 in September, and the city's TV cameras will still be lined up at Halas Hall in case Jay Cutler smirks.
The Cubs don't want to put too much pressure on Castro to carry the franchise, so it'll be interesting to see how he's marketed in the future. Cubs marketing capo Wally Hayward said the team needs to promote players, and their stories, more next season, so you can guarantee you'll see Castro's face more next winter. Some guys handle the fame in different ways. Fleita keeps a close eye on the young player and the team will continue to try and surround him with positive role models like Carlos Pena.
"We look at it like he's going to play here for a long time," Hendry said, in a rare good news media scrum. "He's going to be a very good player. Maybe he'll be better than a very good player. Why put those expectations on him if you don't need to? He just turned 21 right before Opening Day. Let's let him have a great career and let's try to keep putting better players around him, and hopefully he'll be one of those guys who spends his whole life here."
Better players is key, whether Hendry is adding them or not. The dream for the Cubs shouldn't be Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, but rather for them to throw money at Jose Reyes, who has priced himself out of the Mets' reach. Put either Castro or Reyes at third, presumably Castro, and then the Cubs can sell $85 bleacher tickets without shame, because that would be the foundation for an exciting team.
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Even with a face-saving win Sunday, the Cubs find themselves in a sort of limbo right now, one that has left their true fans more apathetic than at any time in recent memory.
That goes for the White Sox as well, who just can't seem to get over that veritable, Adam Dunn-size hump.
The fans, of course, have noticed.
Sure, Wrigley Field drew 125,962 for this series, second best in team history to this season's Yankees series. But the Cubs counted Dunn as 700 people, so let's not go crazy.
Here's a serious question: In the city that made voting fraud legitimate, how in the world can two baseball teams only total the minimum two All-Stars, zero by the fans' vote?
Oh that's right, "We stinks." I forgot Carlos Zambrano's wise summation, which works for both teams.
In the last updates provided by MLB.com, Paul Konerko was fifth among AL first basemen with more than 900,000 votes, almost 300,000 shy of the Texas Rangers' Mitch Moreland, who may or may not be a real player. Hell, Konerko, a legit MVP candidate, got fewer votes than Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist.
Bruce Bochy selected Castro as the Cubs' lone representative. Castro came into the game ninth in batting average, second in hits (108) and multihit games (32) in the National League. But yet, he wasn't in the top five at his position in fan voting going into the home stretch. That's unfathomable considering the team's popularity. Doesn't anyone have a computer around here?
The Sox get another chance to rally their fan base, mounting a campaign to get Konerko into the game via the MLB.com gimmick "The Final Vote."
Carlos Quentin was the Sox's sole representative, voted in by the players. Tough to celebrate when even Quentin thought Konerko (.317, 21 homers, 62 RBIs) deserved it more.
"The guy carrying the team offensively all year was Paul Konerko," Quentin said. "So there's some mixed feelings there. There's some hope there he gets added, I hope the powers that be can do that. He's the man on this team."
After Sunday's game, the Sox should feel lucky that any hitter made the All-Star festivities in Arizona.
With no Juan Pierre heroics, Konerko was the only guy to come close to driving in a run Sunday in another offensively inept game for the Sox. He was at the plate when a Kerry Wood wild pitch scored Mark Teahen.
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The Sox, winners of four straight coming in, needed a win to go over .500 for the first time since April 15, when a loss dropped them to 7-6. Instead they collected two hits off Rodrigo Lopez. Dunn had as many hits as Dayan Viciedo and the BP Cup.
Now the Sox have Kansas City coming in for a series, the start of 19 straight games against the AL Central with the first seven coming before the All-Star break. It's fair to say the Sox's fate could be written in the next few weeks. They are just 6-11 against their own division, considered the weakest in baseball once again.
"It's been our M.O., we don't play good in our division the last little bit," Matt Thornton said. "It's a matter of going out and taking care of our division and taking care of games there."
So this is how it breaks down, after another city series is in the books: The Cubs, with no hope at contending this year, can feel good about touting their future and celebrating a win in front of another full house at Wrigley. While the Sox, with lingering playoff hopes, have to find it in themselves to right their ship before they sink the season.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.