Since Robinson Cano departed in 2013, second base has been a black hole for the Yankees. However, in 2016, the Yankees won’t go with a has-been like Brian Roberts or Stephen Drew in a lackluster attempt to fill the void. Tonight, the Yankees traded Adam Warren and a player to be named later to the Cubs in exchange for Starlin Castro, who will be the regular second baseman going forward. He’s certainly not Cano, but he is a young and controllable player with upside.
Castro, 26 in March, is an aggressive contact hitter with below average power from the right side. He’s mixed in a couple of poor offensive seasons (2013 and 2015) with otherwise above average performances in his other four years. In 2011 and 2014 in particular, Castro was a top offensive shortstop. Despite a couple of crevasses, his track record says he’s capable of being one of the better hitting second basemen in baseball. It’s just a matter of the Yankees getting him on the right track.
Defensively, Castro’s a mixed bag. Defensive metrics are inconsistent on him as a shortstop, with DRS and UZR not fans while FRAA likes his play. Moving to second base full-time should result in some improvement there. He’s certainly athletic enough to be at least adequate at the position. On the basepaths, Castro isn’t a speedster but not necessarily a slouch. He did steal 20 bases in 2011 and 2012, but has only swiped a handful of bags each season otherwise.
Aside from his skillset, Castro’s age and contract status undoubtedly attracted the Yankees. Starlin turns 26 in March and is on a very reasonable contract through 2019, including a team option for 2020. He’s guaranteed a tad over $41 million dollars over the next four seasons, pushing off three years of free agent eligibility. The Yankees hold a $16 million club option for the 2020 season, when he’d still be just 30 years old. If he can regain his form and establish some consistency, that’s a killer deal for the Yankees.
It hasn’t been a bed of roses off the field, though. Although not charged, Castro allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in 2011. He also was interrogated about a nightclub shooting in the Dominican Republic in 2014. Castro was cleared of any wrongdoing in that case. Whatever the truth is regarding the two incidents, it’s not great to have one’s name attached to either. From this aspect, Castro is a surprising addition considering the Yankees desire to roster high-character players.
Before tonight’s deal, Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder were set to platoon at second base. Now, Ackley appears destined for a utility role while Refsnyder might find himself in a new organization before the offseason’s end. There doesn’t seem to be a place for Refsnyder, who Castro now blocks. In college, Refnsyder was an outfielder, but Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge are certainly ahead of him in the pecking order as long term options, so a conversion seems unlikely. I suppose Refsnyder could return to Triple-A for more reps (he wasn’t great there in 2015, after all), but he doesn’t seem to have much of a future with the Yankees.
Losing Adam Warren puts a dent in the Yankees’ pitching depth in both the rotation and bullpen. Now, Bryan Mitchell or Ivan Nova seem mostly like to fill Warren’s swingman role. That’s certainly a downgrade, but there’s still a ways to go this winter. Expect some pitching depth added in the coming weeks.
This acquisition fits right into the mold of what the Yankees have been doing the past couple of seasons: acquiring young, controllable players with upside. Castro joins the likes of Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, Dustin Ackley, and Aaron Hicks. It’s not what we’re accustomed to with the Yankees, but its probably the best strategy for Brian Cashman given Hal Steinbrenner’s desire to decrease payroll below the luxury tax threshold.