Revamped stance may mean Castro’s late-season success is here to stay

This was a dinger. (David Banks/Getty)
This was a dinger. (David Banks/Getty)

Two weeks ago the Yankees made the most significant commitment to their on-the-fly rebuild when they shipped Adam Warren (and Brendan Ryan) to the Cubs for Starlin Castro. They gave up a cheap yet proven above-average commodity in Warren for Castro, who is owed $40M or so over the next four years. The other rebuild trades didn’t involve giving up players as good as Warren or taking on that sort of financial commitment.

The Yankees are banking on Castro’s youth and talent, which became expendable for the Cubs. Castro had some pretty good years earlier in his career but has been replacement level in two of the last three seasons, so this is a clear risk for New York. They’re hoping his excellent finish carries over to next year. “He really looked like a different player over at second,” said Brian Cashman following the trade.

By now you know the story. Castro started 2015 as Chicago’s everyday shortstop before moving to second base in August in deference to the defensively superior Addison Russell. Starlin hit .243/.278/.320 (59 wRC+) as a shortstop and .339/.358/.583 (154 wRC+) as a second baseman. This could easily be a sample size thing — he batted 443 times as a shortstop and only 121 times as a second baseman — but I truly believe a position change can help (or hurt) a player’s offense.

“The first two games I played (at second base) felt a little bit weird, but after playing three or four games there, I felt pretty good,” said Castro to reporters in a conference call after the trade. Position changes aren’t always easy, but if the player is more comfortable and has more confidence at a position, it could carry over at the plate. The opposite is true too — if he’s not comfortable, it could drag him down offensively. Moving to second may have helped Castro’s bat.

While the position change is a nice story, there is perhaps a more practical explanation for Castro’s improved performance down the stretch: he made some mechanical changes at the plate. Starlin sat four days between the move from short to second, and during that time he worked with the hitting coaches — the Cubs have a hitting coach (John Mallee), an assistant hitting coach (Eric Hinske), and something of a hitting liaison (Manny Ramirez) — to close his stance.

“Just moved my front leg,” said Castro to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). “I think my front leg was just too open and I just tried to pull the ball. That’s why at the beginning of the season, I hit a lot of ground balls to third and to short. It’s not the type of player that I am. I just always hit the ball to the middle and right field. The adjustment that I did, I just closed the stance a little bit more and that helped me a lot to drive the ball to the opposite way.”

Here is Castro at the plate late in the 2014 season, early in the 2015 season, then late in the 2015 season. You can see his stance was very open in 2014 and early in 2015, but, after sitting for a few days and moving to second, he is much more closed at the plate. (Castro is still slightly open but it is not nearly as exaggerated.) You can click the image for the purposes of embiggening.

Starlin Castro stance

“Yeah it’s tough. It’s tough,” said Castro to Marakovits when asked about making the adjustment in the middle of the season. “Especially after six years playing every day, 160 games every year, and then to sit on the bench (for four days) when the team is playing so good. But I don’t want to be selfish. I just put the team first and continued working hard and (tried to take advantage of) the opportunity.”

Anecdotally, it makes sense closing your stance would better allow you to stay on the ball and hit it the other way. Most hitters open their stance in an effort to see the pitch better, but a byproduct can be pulling the ball more often given the direction of the legs and all that. Here is Castro’s batted ball data before and after the adjustment.

BIP GB% FB% LD% Pull% Mid% Opp% Soft% Hard%
Open Stance 342 56.7% 27.5% 15.8% 41.2% 37.1% 21.6% 24.0% 21.6%
Closed Stance 120 46.2% 33.6% 20.2% 39.2% 42.5% 18.3% 21.7% 29.2%
2014 430 45.3% 32.3% 22.3% 40.2% 38.1% 21.6% 16.0% 29.1%

I included Castro’s 2014 batted ball data in there as a reference point for how he hits the ball when he’s going well — Starlin hit .292/.339/.438 (117 wRC+) last year and that’s pretty awesome. That’s the kind of production the Yankees are hoping to see going forward, and the fact his batted ball profile with the closed stance so closely matches his 2014 batted ball profile is pretty rad.

Anyway, the data backs up when Castro told Marakovits, at least somewhat. He did hit the ball on the ground a ton with his wide open stance — that 56.7% ground ball rate would have been the sixth highest among the 141 qualified hitters had he sustained it all season — though he didn’t necessarily pull the ball more often. That 41.2% pull rate is not wildly out of line with last year or what he did with the closed stance. A percentage point or two in either direction is no big deal.

The more important number to me is Castro’s hard contract rate. The league average is a 28.6% hard contact rate, and Castro was far below that early in the season, with his wide open stance. He was (slightly) above league average last year and again this year once he closed his stance. Good things happen when you hit the ball hard, especially in the air. That was the biggest change in 2015. Castro hit the ball weakly and on the ground with his open stance, then hit it hard and in the air with his closed stance.

Now, here’s the thing: I’ve written an awful lot of posts about mechanical changes over the years and more often than not, nothing really comes of it. The only player I can remember who made a noticeable mechanical change and then showed significant, sustained improvement is Curtis Granderson, who went from an okay hitter to a dinger machine seemingly overnight in August 2010. Castro closing his stance can be a whole bunch of nothing.

At the same time, the fact Castro changed his stance and had about a month and half worth of success is encouraging. He’s not an older player trying to stay productive — the vast majority of those mechanical change posts I’ve written were about old dudes trying to hang on — he’s a young guy who lost his way and is trying to get back on track. This isn’t a player trying to compensate for lost bat speed or something like that. Not all adjustments are made for the same reason.

Castro credited Manny Ramirez for helping him this past season — “This is a guy who’s (been through) every moment in the big leagues,” he told Marakovits — and that’s a relationship the Yankees won’t be able to offer, but it’s not like they’re lacking veteran leaders. Starlin’s late-season success is encouraging and the closed stance gives us a tangible reason why it may continue. That doesn’t mean he’s forever fixed, but Castro may have found something that works at this point of his career.

The Good, the Bad, and the Funny of 2016 ZiPS Projections

2016 ZiPS

Yesterday morning, 2016 ZiPS projections for the Yankees were released over at FanGraphs. There are an awful lot projection systems out there but ZiPS has emerged as the most reliable — especially when it comes to translating minor league or overseas performance — of the bunch. Dan Szymborski’s system is pretty rad.

Anyway, projections are always fun to look at, though you have to take them with a grain of salt. (Those are the WAR projections in the image above.) Remember, projections are not predictions of what the player will do next season. They’re just an attempt to estimate the player’s current talent level. Got it? Good. Here are some Yankees projections that caught my eye for one reason or another.

Aaron Judge

Judge has maybe the most LOL worthy projection, and I mean that in a nice way, not a ZiPS is stupid way. The system him pegs him for 30 home runs … and a 35.0% strikeout rate. That’s just perfect. Judge still has some work to do to combat soft stuff away and I think if the Yankees did stick him in the show right now, he would strike out 30% of the time or more. Then again, 30 dingers! That’s fun. No other Yankee projects for 30 homers.

Greg Bird

In terms of OPS+, Bird projects as the best hitter in the organization right now. ZiPS has him at .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) with 26 dingers in 2016. Mark Teixeira (119 OPS+) and Alex Rodriguez (115 OPS+) are the only other players close to Bird. I can buy this. Bird showed a lot of Yankee Stadium friendly pull power in his cameo this year (eleven homers in 46 games) though I do worry teams will LOOGY the hell out of him. Then again, the only non-Yankee lefty starters in the AL East right now are David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore. Not exactly Murderer’s Row of southpaws there aside from Price.

Starlin Castro vs. Rob Refsnyder

Projection for Castro: .274/.310/.405 (98 OPS+) with 2.2 WAR. Projection for Refsnyder: .248/.318/.395 (98 OPS+) with 1.9 WAR. That’s basically the same! I’m not sure if I buy that though. I’d bet on Castro outproducing Refsnyder by a pretty decent margin if given the same playing time. There’s also the “they acquired Castro because they think he’s going to get a lot better” thing. Either way, the objective projection system sees Castro and Refsnyder as basically equal.

Oh, and by the way, ZiPS projects a .253/.310/.415 (100 OPS+) batting line for Dustin Ackley next season. Am I the only one who would sign up for that right now, no questions asked? Ackley’s hit .238/.298/.365 (89 OPS+) in his last 1,900 plate appearances.

No Innings

ZiPS projects Masahiro Tanaka to lead the Yankees in innings with … 157.7. Yikes. Luis Severino is second with 154 innings. That just reflects the rotation’s health concerns — injury history is baked into the ZiPS algorithm — which are significant. After all, CC Sabathia led the team with only 167.1 innings this past season, so having no one reach even 160 innings next year would not be the most surprising thing in the world.

The Yankees need some arms. We’ve known this for weeks. This starting staff is risky as hell. Lots of upside and lots of downside, and when four of the five projected 2016 starters missed time with injuries in 2015, the downside outweighs the upside.

The Bullpen Shuttle

In terms of FIP, the best projection among the various bullpen shuttle relievers belongs to … Nick Goody at 3.68. Jacob Lindgren (3.73 FIP) is right there with him. Everyone else is at a 4.00-ish FIP or above. Lindgren and Goody lead the way with 29.5% and 27.3% projected strikeout rates, respectively. We all know about Lindgren, he was the top draft pick who zoomed to MLB, but Goody had a ridiculous 2015 season in the minors (1.59 ERA and 2.06 FIP with 33.2 K%). He might be getting overlooked as a potential bullpen factor in 2016.

The Comps

ZiPS works by comparing players to others with similar statistical profiles, so it spits out a list of comps for each player. The No. 1 comp is included in the FanGraphs post and I always enjoy these because they have a way of knocking you back down to Earth. Take Severino, for example. His No. 1 comp? Kris Benson. Benson was the first overall pick in the 1996 draft and a pretty big prospect back in the day.

Glancing at the list, Dellin Betances is the only Yankee to get a Hall of Famer as his No. 1 comp (Goose Gossage). Well, Pete Kozma drew a Leo Durocher comp, but that’s Leo Durocher the light-hitting infielder and not Leo Durocher the Hall of Fame manager. Andrew Miller drew a Billy Wagner comp and you could argue Wagner’s a Hall of Famer. Bird got a Roberto Petagine comp. Judge? He got Jesse Barfield. Gary Sanchez drew Todd Zeile and Eric Jagielo drew Mark Reynolds. Matt Nokes as the No. 1 comp for Brian McCann gave me a good laugh.

Yankees hoping veteran clubhouse helps Starlin Castro get to the next level

(Jon Durr/Getty)
(Jon Durr/Getty)

It would be wrong to say new second baseman Starlin Castro has only played on young rebuilding or up-and-coming teams. The Cubs did have some lean years there, but he was also teammates with veterans like Derrek Lee (2010), Carlos Pena (2011), Aramis Ramirez (2010-12), and Alfonso Soriano (2010-13) early in his career. The team stunk, but Castro grew up around respected veterans.

“You know who I learned a lot from? Sori,” said Castro to Patrick Mooney last season. “Sori’s the same guy. Always. I always hung out with him. And that’s the kind of thing that he told me: Nobody’s better than baseball. When you’re gone, baseball stays. If you’re a star, if you’re a great player, keep the same (attitude). Stay humble.”

Thanks to the Cubbies’ rebuild, Castro went from the youngest guy on the team to their longest tenured player in about three years. He was The Man on those really bad Cubs teams from 2011-14. “We didn’t really have a good team and the pressure was on me and (Anthony) Rizzo. Sometimes we had a little pressure because we had to do everything,” said Castro to reporters in a conference call after the trade.

With the Yankees, Castro gets a fresh start and can go back to being just one of the guys. He no longer has to carry the club — that’s up to veterans like Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez, among others. Those veterans also form something of a leadership group in the clubhouse. Beltran has a great reputation for helping young Latin American players and A-Rod helps all the young guys on the roster.

“With the veterans we have, we’ll be on top of (Castro), helping him become a better ballplayer,” said Beltran to Zach Braziller recently. “He’s a great kid. He’s a humble guy, a hard worker, and I have heard a lot of good things from him … Hopefully, being able to play in New York motivates him to become a better ballplayer than what he is.”

The appeal of Castro is pretty obvious. Even though he’s had some bad years recently, he’s still very young (26 in March) and offers a lot of athleticism and hitting ability at the two middle infield positions. Plus he’s signed for another four years at an affordable rate. That’s a guy you’d like to have. At the same time, I think the Yankees are hoping veteran leaders like Beltran and A-Rod can help take Castro the next level.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

That’s not necessarily why the Yankee made the trade though. I don’t think you can give up an asset like Adam Warren and take on $40M or so in future salary because you’re banking on some veteran mentors unlocking the talent. They like Castro’s tools and physical ability, first and foremost. And if the veterans can help Castro improve his game, then great. That makes it even better.

“I think Alex can help him a lot, I think Carlos can help him a lot,” said Joe Girardi to George King. “(I know) that he played with Soriano, and he really liked Soriano. I think it’s gonna be a good fit. (A-Rod) always mentored. Now he’s the gray, old grizzly guy and he’s doing a lot of that.”

Over the last few years the Yankees have gone out of their way to acquire players with reputations for being good leaders and clubhouse guys. They really started to move in that direction when they signed CC Sabathia and they’ve continued to target those types of players ever since. Castro was the first time they really deviated from that path. Fair or not, he has a reputation for being a bit of a headache, and he’s also had some off-field issues. The Yankees aren’t oblivious to that.

The Yankees believed in Castro enough as a person — remember, special assistant Jim Hendry and pitching coach Larry Rothschild were with Castro in Chicago for a while, so the Yankees had some firsthand knowledge about Starlin — and as a player to pull the trigger on the trade. It wouldn’t be wrong to say he’s falling well short of his ceiling. With a fresh start and the help of veteran leaders, the team hopes Castro gets back on the path to stardom and becomes part of the core of the next great Yankees team.

Sliding in Starlin

(Mitchell Leff/Getty)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty)

When your team trades for a player in December, it’s like getting a present early; there’s a shiny new toy with “your” name on it and you can’t even open the damn thing–let only fully play with it–for months. So, in turn, you build up anticipation both positive and negative about what this new toy could or couldn’t be. Such is the case with this post and newly acquired infielder Starlin Castro and where he fits in the Yankee lineup (as presently constructed, barring any more moves).

For most of his career, Castro has hit in the number two spot in the lineup. During his time with the Cubs, he amassed 1117 plate appearances in that spot over 252 games. He’s also had about a full season’s worth of PA in the leadoff spot (529); the third spot (494); the cleanup spot (537); and the fifth spot (525). In the Bronx, Castro won’t be relied upon to hit in those important spots in the lineup. Rather, it’s likely he’ll be called upon to add some right handed balance to the overall lineup as well as some contact skill to the bottom of the Yankee order.

There are definitely reservations to have regarding Castro entering the Yankee lineup at all before we even get to where he’s going to hit in that lineup. Castro’s career high walk rate is only 6.2%, which he notched in 2014. He’s only been over 5% on his walk rate three times including 2014; the other two were in his rookie year of 2010 (5.7%) and 2012 (5.2%). His power has been up and down and either average or slightly below. New York’s success over the last 20 years has been predicated on patience and power, but not every player can be a take-and-rake guy, especially in today’s offensive climate and especially when that guy is a middle infielder. The Yankees have at least four guys who can fill at least one of the “take” or “rake” role–Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann–and they don’t necessarily “need” the bottom of the order guys to do that. Granted, it’s a lot more helpful when the lower-in-the-order hitters can do those things, but that’s asking a lot in 2016. What Castro is good at, though, is making contact.

Castro has posted above-average contact rates for his entire career , including the down years he had in 2013 and 2015. After years of watching Jayson Nix and Stephen Drew rack up a good amount of strikeouts in the lower third of the order with not too much return (though Drew was probably a little better than we gave him credit for), it’ll be nice to have a player who can make contact to (hopefully) move more runners along and bring more runners home.

Lefties killed the Yankees in the second half last year after A-Rod slowed down and Mark Texieira got hurt, and that’s another area where Castro can help the club. For his career, he’s hit .295/.344/.415 against lefties with a .330 wOBA and a 106 wRC+. Depending on how manager Joe Girardi deploys Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks–who can hit lefties well–Castro will have some opportunity to spend time at the top of the lineup. It’s easy to see him leading off or batting second against lefties when Ellsbury or Gardner gets a day off. His high-contact, decent-OBP success against lefties bodes well for leading off or batting second and is something the Yankees sorely lacked with Ellsbury struggling against lefites and Gardner fighting injury (along with the aforementioned Teixeira and Rodriguez situations).

With the Yankees, Castro will not need to shoulder the load or be the catalyst for offense. He’ll simply need to keep doing what he does well–making contact and handling lefties–and he’ll fit in just fine, regardless of where he ends up hitting. There was a time–even a recent time–when I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of acquiring Castro, but he certainly fills a need and the hole he fills is bigger than the one the pieces used to get him–Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan–are leaving. Even if it’ll be a while before we can see what he can do, I look forward to seeing what he can do.

2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

Velasquez. (Presswire)
Velasquez. (Presswire)

After a long day with few rumors, the Yankees swung a trade last night, sending Adam Warren and a player to be named later (Brendan Ryan) to the Cubs for Starlin Castro. It didn’t come out of nowhere like so many other Yankees’ deals, but it did come together pretty quick. It went from rumor to trade within an hour or so. The on-the-fly rebuild continues.

“It isn’t part of our DNA to accept that full-blown commitment to a rebuild,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “Ownership’s comfort level is walking that tightrope, rather than tearing it down and living to fight another day. The public stated goal is to get younger and compete for the championship every year. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Here are Monday’s and Tuesday’s open threads. Once again, we’ll keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related hot stove rumors from the Winter Meetings right here in this post. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:30am: Following the trade yesterday, Cashman confirmed the Cubs asked about Brett Gardner early in the Starlin Castro trade talks, but that wasn’t happening. He also said Luis Severino, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge have not been offered in any deals this offseason. [Joel Sherman, Tyler Kepner]
  • 10:30am: “Hopefully I can do some things to add to our depth,” said Cashman, specifically about the pitching staff. He did not rule out free agents but did acknowledge trades are more likely. “I’ve been busiest on the trade front … If it’s old and expensive, we did not check on that.” [Erik Boland, Marly Rivera, Mark Feinsand]
  • 10:30am: Tyler Flowers, who was connected to the Yankees earlier this week, signed a two-year deal with the Braves yesterday. Cashman also confirmed they did check in with Ben Zobrist earlier this week, though his first choice was the Cubs. [Bob Nightengale, Ken Davidoff]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have shown an interest in Astros righty Vincent Velasquez. Houston has interest in Andrew Miller and Velasquez could be part of the package. However, there’s some thought the Yankees would flip Velasquez to the Marlins for Marcell Ozuna. [George King]
  • 10:30am: Several teams have called about Justin Wilson, including the Tigers. Hey, if Miller is available, there’s no reason Wilson shouldn’t be as well. Whether the Yankees are comfortable trading both end game lefties is another matter. [George King]
  • 10:42am: Brett Gardner remains available but nothing is close at the moment. Nothing’s changed after the Castro pickup. [Jon Heyman]
  • 12:47pm: The Yankees are talking to the Dodgers and Astros about Andrew Miller. Houston’s been on Miller for a while now, and the Dodgers lost out on Aroldis Chapman earlier this week. In terms of performance plus contract, Miller is by frickin’ far the best available reliever right now. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 2:17pm: The Yankees did circle back and ask the D’Backs if they still had interest in Andrew Miller following their recent Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller pickups. Arizona seems to be in a very generous mood, so why not ask? They had interest in Miller earlier this offseason. [Joel Sherman]
  • 5:21pm: As expected, Cashman confirmed Justin Wilson is indeed available. “If we are willing to discuss Andrew Miller, we are willing to discuss Justin Wilson,” he said. [Marly Rivera]
  • 5:46pm: The Yankees are still getting a ton of hits on Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. Cashman continues to say they’re open to anything, but added “it’s more likely than not we’ll have the same dynamic duo” next year, meaning Miller and Dellin Betances. [Bryan Hoch, Erik Boland]
  • 5:48pm: Cashman admitted the Yankees don’t have a whole lot money to spend this winter. “It’s accurate to say flexibility is limited currently because we’re committed to a lot,” he said. So annoying. [Pete Caldera]
  • 5:50pm: The Yankees do expect to lose someone in the Rule 5 Draft tomorrow. Jake Cave’s a safe bet. Apparently they’re also considering taking someone. They do have two open 40-man roster spots. A reliever and/or a spare infielder capable of playing third base are solid bets. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 6:01pm: The team’s interest in Tyler Flowers was limited to a non-roster invite. Flowers’ response to the offer: “Hell no.” So there you go. Cashman said the team wants to “unleash” Gary Sanchez. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 6:32pm: There’s a rumor going around that the Yankees have traded Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two prospects, but Cashman shot that down for the time being. “I don’t know what the reports are but I don’t have anything to talk about,” he said. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 6:38pm: The Yankees are “talking seriously” about trading Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two prospects, but nothing is done yet. Sounds like it’s only a matter of time. [Joel Sherman]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Thoughts following the Starlin Castro trade

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Last night the Yankees made their second trade of the offseason, sending Adam Warren and a Brendan Ryan to be named later to the Cubs for Starlin Castro. Brian Cashman confirmed he tried to get Castro at the trade deadline, then again earlier this offseason before the two teams circled back at the Winter Meetings this week. Anyway, I have thoughts. Here they are in no logical order.

1. This trade seems to go against pretty much everything the Yankees have done the last few years in that Castro is not considered a great makeup guy. Fair or not, he’s been cast as a bit of a headache throughout his career, and he’s also had some off-field issues, namely this and this. I doubt the “good clubhouse guy” thing has gone out the window, so chances are the Yankees feel comfortable with Castro as a person. Special assistant Jim Hendry was the Cubs GM when Chicago signed, developed, and called Castro up to MLB. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was also with the Cubs for Starlin’s rookie year, so presumably he and Hendry have firsthand knowledge of Castro the person. I’m sure both had some level of input — Hendry moreso than Rothschild — into the trade and signed off on his makeup. It’s just a little weird to see the Yankees pick up a guy widely believed to have makeup issues after doing the opposite for so long. (I don’t think playing in New York will be an issue. Chicago is intense and Cubs media has been trashing Castro for years. He’s used to it.)

2. Now, that said, this an an opportunity for that veteran clubhouse to go to work and help Castro. I’m sure that crossed the team’s mind before the trade. Specifically I’m talking about Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. Those two have long had reputations for helping young players, A-Rod in particular. Robinson Cano was a little like Castro earlier in his career — ultra-talented but a bit lazy (especially in the minors) and someone who coasted on talent — but he credited Alex for whipping him into shape and helping him take his career to the next level. A-Rod’s made some big mistakes in his career, but he’s always been very prepared and a very hard worker. He instilled that mindset in Cano and hopefully he (and Beltran) can do it again with Castro. Starlin may really be able to thrive under two veteran mentors like A-Rod and Beltran.

3. Castro’s risk is very obvious. He’s been one of the worst players in baseball two of the last three years and is a .265/.305/.383 (89 wRC+) hitter in his last 1,852 plate appearances. That’s bad. I don’t care how young you are or how much upside you have. That’s bad. Can’t argue otherwise. And yet, Castro hit .292/.339/.438 (117 wRC+) as recently as 2014. He’s been league average or better at the plate in four of his six big league seasons. This strikes me as a very boom or bust move. Castro could really take off as he enters his prime — maybe he goes on a Cano-like tear these next few years, that’d be cool — or he could continue to flounder and be a below-average hitter. The Yankees are taking a shot on talent here and there’s a chance this turns into a $40M dud. Then again, if Castro was putting up big numbers, it would have taken a lot more than Warren (and Ryan) to get him.

4. I do think the trade is fair-ish from a pure value-for-value perspective. Warren (and Ryan) was at the very upper bound of what I would have been comfortable paying for Castro, but it’s not crazy. Cubs fans are probably more upset they didn’t get more for Castro — a young everyday middle infielder signed affordably for another four years — than Yankees fans should be they didn’t get more for Warren. The Yankees got three cheap years out of David Phelps then traded him away from Nathan Eovaldi. They then got three cheap years out of Warren then flipped him for Castro. Who’s next in line, Bryan Mitchell?

5. The Yankees are definitely going to miss Warren because he’s both good and versatile. He can start or relieve, and he’s durable. Warren has never had an arm injury in his career and he bounces back well on back-to-back days, stuff like that. Warren was basically penciled in as that No. 4 reliever behind Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson. Who’s the team’s second best righty reliever behind Betances right now? Mitchell? Branden Pinder or Nick Rumbelow? Eek. Warren was also the club’s No. 6 (or No. 7) starter. He was really important this past season and his “quality innings in whatever role” profile will not be easily replaced. You’ve got to give to get, but boy, those important innings Warren soaked up are going to fall on someone less qualified now. Bringing in another depth arm should be on the to-do list now. (Yes, there’s still plenty of offseason left.)

(Andy Lyons/Getty)
(Andy Lyons/Getty)

6. I do like that Castro adds balance to the lineup and has a different offensive profile than most other Yankees regulars. For starters, he’s a right-handed hitter who has a history of hitting left-handers (career 106 wRC+), and we saw how southpaws chewed the Yankees up down the stretch last year. A-Rod was their only potent everyday right-handed hitter, and once he faded in the second half, the Yankees had little chance against lefties. Castro will help fix that problem. He’s also a very aggressive (career 3.67 pitches per plate appearance) contact hitter (career 15.6% strikeout rate), and I don’t think having a guy like that in the lineup is a bad thing. The Yankees can get caught being a little too passive at times. Having someone who comes out willing to jump on that belt high first pitch fastball adds a different dynamic to the offense. Now, putting nine guys like that in the lineup is a problem. But one? No big deal. Especially when he’s hitting in the bottom third of the lineup like Castro probably will, at least at first.

7. One aspect of Castro’s game that is pretty cool: he’s very durable. He’s played in 766 of 810 possible games since 2011 (94.6%) and he’s never been on the DL. His only notable injury is a high ankle sprain suffered late last year while sliding into home plate. The Cubs shut him down for the final 23 games of the season because they were out of the race and there was no reason to push it. This is baseball, fluke injuries can happen at any time, but the ability to stay on the field and play 150+ games year after year is a valuable. That was a big part of what made Cano great. The guy played every game. Health is a skill, and six years into his big league career, it appears Castro has it.

8. The bench will have a different look now. Castro is going to be the starting second baseman but with Ryan going to the Cubs in the trade, Starlin also figures to be the backup shortstop. So now the bench is: backup catcher (Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez), outfielder (Aaron Hicks), utility man (Dustin Ackley), and a fourth guy. That fourth guy can be anything! It could be another outfielder (Slade Heathcott?), another infielder (Rob Refsnyder?), a backup first baseman (Greg Bird?), or heck, even a third catcher. That said, the Yankees need to come up with a backup third baseman for Chase Headley, because Ryan was it and now he’s done. Ackley can’t do it because his arm has been shot since having Tommy John surgery in college. He’d need a relay man to make the throw across the diamond. Castro has never played third at the big league level and has seven games of hot corner experience in his career, all in rookie ball a very long time ago. Gregorius has played ten innings at third in his career, all with the 2014 Diamondbacks. I guess he’s the backup third baseman by default right now. Juan Uribe would be a pretty cool bench target. He can still pick it at third and do damage against lefties. Mark Reynolds stands out as another potential depth pickup. The backup third base situation is: developing.

9. Alright, so what happens with Refsnyder now? Cashman said yesterday the plan was to start him at Triple-A in the wake of the Castro trade, but what’s he supposed to say? They could trade him now — the A’s had interest at the deadline, remember — but there’s no need to come out and say that’s the plan. It’s self-defeating. The Yankees didn’t give Refsnyder much of an opportunity this season despite Stephen Drew‘s prolonged slumps, and the Castro trade is only more confirmation they aren’t comfortable with Refsnyder as an everyday player. “I think that the one spot that’s probably open for competition more than anything is second base,” said Joe Girardi during his meeting with reporters prior to the trade yesterday. Holding on to middle infield depth is never a bad thing, but it would not surprise me at all if Refsnyder was traded now, perhaps for a spare arm or another position player who fits the roster better. We’ll see. The Castro pickup certainly did Refsnyder’s Yankees career no favors.

Yankees swap Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan for Starlin Castro


For the second time this offseason and the fifth time in the last 13 months, the Yankees have brought in a change-of-scenery player to add youth to the roster. New York acquired Starlin Castro from the Cubs on Tuesday night, sending Adam Warren and a player to be named later to Chicago. Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s official. Officially official.

Castro, 25, joins Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, Dustin Ackley, and Aaron Hicks as young players the Yankees have acquired in trades since last November. All five are talented — they’ve all appeared on at least one Baseball America top 100 prospects list, for what it’s worth — and all five fell out of favor with their former teams. The Yankees swooped in and picked them up as part of their on-the-fly rebuild.

This past season Castro hit .265/.296/.375 (80 wRC+) with eleven home runs in 578 plate appearances. He started the season as Chicago’s shortstop and stayed there for 109 games before being moved to second base. Castro hit .353/.373/.588 (161 wRC+) with six home runs in 42 games after changing positions. Obviously the Yankees are hoping to get that guy going forward.

“He looked like a different player after the position change,” said Brian Cashman to reporters Tuesday evening, after the trade was announced. “I like that he’s athletic. I like his age. (I like that he) can play multiple positions and adds balance to lineup. He’s a contact-oriented player. He’s a free swinger, but a contact (freak) … (Castro) checks a lot of boxes — youth, flexibility.”

The various defensive stats consistently rated Castro as a below-average defender at short. He only played 258 innings at second base, so looking at numbers would be useless at this point. I reckon his second base defense can’t be any worse than what the Yankees were looking at from the Ackley/Rob Refsnyder platoon. Castro is signed through 2019 for $41.4M with a 2020 club option worth $16M. That’s pretty affordable by today’s standards.

Castro’s a former tippy top prospect with big upside, so the appeal is obvious. There’s also major downside too: he’s been one of the worst players in baseball two of the last three years by WAR. His good years have been good but not great (117 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR in 2014) and his down years have been abysmal (74 wRC+ and 0.1 fWAR in 2013). Special assistant Jim Hendry was the Cubs GM when they signed, developed, and summoned Castro to MLB, so he surely had input into this move.

In Warren, the Yankees are giving up a valuable and a versatile arm capable of doing pretty much anything. Start, long relief, middle relief, setup … Warren’s done it all for the Yankees the last few seasons. The 28-year-old had a 3.29 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 131.1 innings spread across 17 starts and 26 relief appearances in 2015. He was arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and is projected to earn $1.5M in 2015. Warren is three years from free agency.

Although the Yankees were planning to bring Warren to Spring Training as a starting pitcher, he was likely no higher than sixth on their rotation depth chart behind Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, and Eovaldi in whatever order. Still, Warren’s shown he can succeed in pretty much any role, so he was going to have a important place on the roster in 2016. He’ll be missed.

At this time of the year, a player to be named is usually a non-40-man roster player who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. That’s not the case here though. Joel Sherman says Brendan Ryan will be the player to be named. They’re holding off because the Cubs don’t want to fill another 40-man spot before Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Once the draft passes, Ryan will go to Chicago. The Yankees will have two open 40-man spots when it’s all said and done.

Ryan, 33, hit a weak .229/.275/.333 (64 wRC+) in 47 games and 103 plate appearances around a variety of injuries in 2015. He makes his money in the field with his glove, not at the plate. Castro will be the starting second baseman but also figures to double as Gregorius’ backup at short. That would make Ackley and/or Refsnyder the backup plan at second base. We’ll see how that shakes out.

An Ackley/Refsnyder platoon was somewhat intriguing, but I also think it was one of those things that sounds okay in December and leaves you pulling your hair out in May. There’s a lot of risk here. Warren’s going to be tougher to replace than I think many realize, and Castro has been more down than up in recent years. There’s also some crazy high upside. Castro’s a high-level talent and is about to enter what should be his prime years.