Yankees Get Younger with Starlin Castro, Slightly Better

Brian Cashman wants the Yankees to get younger. Did you know that Starlin Castro is only 25 years old?

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of last night’s winter meetings madness was the trade that sent Castro to the Yankees in exchange for right-hander Adam Warren and utility man Brendan Ryan, mere minutes after Castro had been displaced in Chicago by the Cubs’ signing of Ben Zobrist.

Castro, it seems, developed something of a bad rap in Chicago, and the writing of his departure had been on the wall for some time. It’s easy to forget that Castro is still just 25, though, and for a 25-year-old, he’s accomplished quite a bit. For instance, Castro already has nearly 1,000 hits! Getting to 3,000 essentially makes you a lock for the Hall of Fame, and by age 25, Castro is already one-third of the way there. Through his age-25 season, Castro has accumulated more hits than all but 20 players in baseball history. Of those 20 players, 14 are Hall of Famers, and the other is Alex Rodriguez. Of course, I don’t at all mean to insinuate Castro will achieve 3,000 hits or make the Hall of Fame, but players who a) debut young enough and b) perform at a good enough level to continue to receive playing time generally go on to have rather successful careers.

Anyway, that’s just an anecdote about Starlin Castro that I happen to enjoy. What actually matters is that the Yankees felt an upgrade at second base over Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder was in order, and that the Cubs had a young second baseman to spare. This is how trades come together.

Refsnyder is now set to open the season in Triple-A. He’s considered a prospect, though he’s less than a year younger than Castro, and he hit well in limited playing time last season. There are still doubts that he can handle the position, one to which he’s still relatively new, having played right field throughout college until being drafted in 2012. Refsnyder could probably start, and the projections like his bat better than Castro’s, but he could benefit from more defensive seasoning in the minors, and it can’t hurt to have a guy like Refsnyder as a depth piece.

Defensively, Castro had been seen as something of a liability over the years at shortstop, though the metrics never considered him much more than slightly below average. It’s tough to have too much of a read on Castro’s abilities at second base with such a limited sample, but the reports out of Chicago seemed to be overwhelmingly positive, and it’s not hard to imagine a passable shortstop excelling at second base.

Castro likely will occasionally spell Didi Gregorius at shortstop, but between Castro and Dustin Ackley, the two form an interesting platoon at second base. Castro should be expected to play most days, and Ackley will almost never play against lefties. While Ackley’s never lived up to top prospect expectations, he’s been a league-average hitter against right-handed pitching throughout his career, and all signs point to him being a plus defender at second base, with added versatility in the ability to play the outfield. When deployed efficiently, Ackley is a useful player. Castro’s presence allows Ackley to be deployed efficiently.

Of note, with regards to Castro, is his contractual situation. Castro is under team control through 2020, taking him through his age-30 season, with that final season being a team option. Over the four guaranteed years, Castro is owed just $37 million, with the option adding another $16 million at the end. Either way, Castro’s deal is relatively cheap. For any team, the money would be reasonable. For the Yankees, it’s inconsequential.

While Castro has been consistently productive over the course of his career, he’s been inconsistent on a year-to-year basis, with two of the last three seasons looking somewhat disastrous. Maybe this is more fun fact than anything else, but in three of Castro’s six seasons, he’s hit fewer than half his batted balls on the ground, and in those seasons when he’s getting the ball more in the air, he’s been an above-average hitter. In the other three seasons, when more than half his batted balls are grounders, he’s been a below-average hitter. Last year, Castro posted his highest ground ball rate yet. Moving to the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, you’d like to see Castro add more loft to his swing and drive more balls, rather than try to beat them through the holes of the infield.

In Warren, the Cubs’ return for Castro, the Yankees gave up an interesting pitcher entering his first year of arbitration. Warren hd mostly been used out of the bullpen in years past, though he received 17 starts last year and posted a 3.66 ERA and 3.92 FIP. For his career, in nearly 300 innings between the bullpen and the rotation, Warren has been 10-to-15 percent better than league average, with the potential for added optimism coming from some comps found by Eno Sarris and Dan Szymborski’s very rosy ZiPS projections:

Warren wasn’t expected to crack New York’s rotation — and he isn’t in Chicago, either — but it seems to lessen the possibility of Ivan Nova being dealt this offseason, as the Yankees now have one fewer serviceable depth piece for the rotation.

The return seems fine, on both sides. If you really like Adam Warren, maybe you think the Yankees parted with a valuable piece for an unsubstantial upgrade. On the other hand, the Yankees get five years of a middle infielder who, while frustrating most recently, has an impressive resume for his age, and is still young enough to where it’s not unreasonable to think improvements could still be made. The Yankees intend to compete, always, and Castro’s price will never be unreasonable, and so he’ll be an asset during the retooling process that will inevitably take place over the next couple years as the Yankees drop $60 million from their payroll by shedding the contracts of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. Castro’s run in Chicago had clearly come to an end, and the Yankees were in need of a second baseman. Voila. Sometimes, these things don’t have to be too complicated.

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Pinstripe Wizard
6 years ago

Said this on the Instagraphs post, but I don’t see why Castro and Ackley are the platoon options here. Castro could platoon somewhat with Didi as well and let Refsnyder play 2nd agaist lefties. Ackley works as a 4th OF so you really don’t have to carry an OF bat on the bench like teams like to do. Castro doesn’t have to play every day. He could platoon at SS with Didi, get some time at 2nd, and provide some depth in case of injury. This deal could work out great considering the flexibility it provides the Yankees.

6 years ago

I actually like this idea a lot from the offensive standpoint. Castro-Refsnyder douple play combo would be a big step down from Didi-Castro defensively however.

August is totally correct in that this move allows them to deploy Ackley efficiently as he is the kind of player that gets exposed when played every day.

The bench with Hicks as the 4th OF right now is very strong, especially if their RH hitters coming off the pine are Refsnyder and Gary Sanchez. There’s good depth on the position player side of things, and I just hope the Yankees are correct in that they can afford to give away the protection Warren represented in the rotation and pen.

Pinstripe Wizard
6 years ago
Reply to  dom

I agree that defensively that would not be a great situation, but part of me thinks that the increase in offensive production would at least counter the loss in defensive production. It would certainly help the viewing experience not to see Didi bat against LHP.

6 years ago

Depends who’s pitching, right? Mets got away with some subpar defense last year, because their guys mowed down the league, until running into the Royals. Not that the Yankees are flush with extreme strikeout pitchers, at the moment.

Cool Lester Smooth
6 years ago

Castro, Ackley and Refsnyder all project around the same offensively.

Castro and Ackley are each good 2B defenders. Refsnyder is a bad 2B defender.

Castro and Ackley also each provide much higher offensive upside than Refsnyder.

6 years ago

The data disagrees with 2 out of your 3 statements. Firstly, Steamer’s wRC+ projections:
Castro – 90
Ackley – 100
Refsnyder – 103

You could argue that Ackley/Refsnyder’s projections are relatively equivalent, but Castro is distinctly at a lower level.

Secondly, the ages of all three players:
Refsnyder – 24y, 8m
Castro – 25y, 8m
Ackley – 27y, 9m

If anything, I would argue that we’re already seeing Ackley’s top upside. For Refsnyder/Castro they’re roughly equivalent in terms of additional improvement offensively (speaking purely from an age-curve perspective).

Cool Lester Smooth
6 years ago
Reply to  Hugh

Steamer’s projections for 25 year olds with 47 MLB PA aren’t “data points.” They’re meaningless.

And, since Refsnyder has never had sustained success on the MLB level, I’m going to defer to scouts when talking about their offensive upside.

Ackley and Castro aren’t data points on a spreadsheet. They’re extremely talented and (especially in Castro’s case) extremely erratic players who haven’t put it together yet.

If they do manage to figure things out, they’re potential 120 wRC+, 4-5 win guys.

It’s equally possible, of course, that they never manage to, and end up worse than Refsnyder in the longterm.