Cubs SS Starlin Castro looking forward to season after rocky winter in Dominican Republic



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CHICAGO — Starlin Castro understands why the Chicago Cubs were concerned. He was scared, too.

Authorities questioned the All-Star shortstop last month after a nightclub shooting in the Dominican Republic. In a separate case earlier in the offseason, Castro had just left a club in his home country when another shooting occurred.

"I just say that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Castro said Friday on the opening day of the Cubs' weekend fan convention. "I want let everybody know that I don't even know what happened. ... I'm not that kind of person."

The 24-year-old is beginning his sixth season with Chicago after hitting .292 with 14 homers and 65 RBIs in 134 games last year. He already has started training in Arizona and is thinking about moving his family to the U.S. after the rocky offseason in his native county.

"Just too many problems over there to try to cost me, and I don't even know what happened," said Castro, who has not been charged in connection with either shooting in the Dominican. "I got to move. I got to do something."

The situation with Castro was perhaps the only trouble for the Cubs in a strong offseason.

There was a palpable buzz at the team's 30th annual convention after Chicago signed ace Jon Lester and brought in manager Joe Maddon in search of its first playoff appearance since 2008.

Castro signed with the Cubs as an amateur free agent in 2006, and then agreed to a seven-year contract in 2012 that includes a club option for the 2020 season. He is a .284 career hitter, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made it sound as if the club plans to stand by him.

"I think the most important thing is that Starlin has responded to this adversity really well," Epstein said. "He's taken a mature approach and figured out that he needed to make some changes. He needed to change his environment in order to put himself in the best position to A. keep him and his family safe and B. to prepare the right way for a season to try to win a championship."

The title talk for the Cubs is something new for Epstein after major renovations for both the roster and Wrigley Field dominated the first part of his time in Chicago.

"It's just nice to transition to the point where we're building the organization but we're building a major league team that can compete," Epstein said. "Our fans deserve to get excited about it."

Epstein said he is comfortable with the current roster heading into spring training, but they could make a few tweaks. The Cubs agreed to one-year deals with outfielder Chris Coghlan ($2,505,000), catcher Welington Castillo ($2.1 million), infielder Luis Valbuena ($4.2 million) and pitchers Jake Arrieta ($3.63 million) and Travis Wood ($5,685,000) before the start of the convention, leaving reliever Pedro Strop as the only Cubs player still in arbitration. He asked for a raise from $1,325,000 to $3 million, and he was offered $2 million.

Castillo is one of three veteran catchers on the roster after the Cubs traded for Miguel Montero and signed David Ross to a $5 million, two-year contract in December.

"I think there's a scenario where our roster could handle three catchers and give Joe some opportunity to mix and match and do some matchup stuff, but we're open to the possibility of a trade as well," Epstein said. "We're not hiding the ball on that."

Montero, a two-time All-Star, hit .243 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs for Arizona last season, but his acquisition was overshadowed by the moves for Lester and Maddon. The active winter led first baseman Anthony Rizzo to predict the Cubs would win the NL Central title this year, and his teammates supported the slugger before the start of the convention.

"We're all pulling the same rope, so I stand behind my teammate," said Lester, who agreed to a $155 million, six-year contract in December. "We're going to go out there and hopefully that's the first goal that we're going to try to make."


Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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