Why the Yankees Are Betting on Starlin Castro

The Yankees acquired Castro from the Cubs, and may have finally found their replacement for Robinson Cano.

The Chicago Cubs signed free agent utility man Ben Zobrist on Tuesday and, suddenly, their glut of middle infielders got even bigger. Someone had to be the odd man out and general manager Theo Epstein took advantage of his surplus, moving Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for pitcher Adam Warren and infielder Brendan Ryan.

The Yankees have Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and considering he posted the sixth best UZR/150 at the position this season, Castro is expected to play second base. This leaves Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder with undefined roles for the Bronx Bombers.

Despite having a poor season at the plate -- Castro’s nERD was -0.98, meaning over a 27-out game, a lineup consisting of just Castros would have scored -0.98 runs per game fewer than a league average team -- there are reasons for the Yankees to be excited about their new infielder.

Castro is just a season removed from his career best weighted on base average (wOBA) of .341, and this total would have ranked fifth best among second basemen this season. Castro’s wOBA fell to .288 this season, but that is due to a terrible first half. He upped his .263 wOBA in the first half of the season to .332 over the second half. 

He started the year as the Cubs everyday shortstop, but moved to second base in August, right around the time he started to get hot at the plate. It’s speculation, but perhaps the position change helped Castro at the plate.

Despite being 25 years old, Castro has already played six seasons in the majors and almost 900 games -- he’s a spring chicken and a veteran at the same time. He’s only hit less than 10 home runs once over these six seasons, and the one season he didn’t was his rookie year. Not counting his rookie season, there are only 12 second baseman who have hit more home runs than Castro since he entered the big leagues.

Castro also offers the Yankees a relatively cap-friendly contract. He signed a 7-year, $60-million deal in 2013, and there is $38 million left on the contract. This gives the Yankees four years of control of Castro, and if he’s able to return to his fWAR of close to 3.0 from a season ago, his value will easily surpass his cost.

The Castro trade was not simply a salary dump for the Cubs, as they received the talented Adam Warren in return. He appeared in 43 games this season (17 starts) and posted a 3.29 ERA (3.96 Expected Fielder Independent Pitching) over 131 1/3 innings pitched. He’s not a big strikeout guy -- his 19.5 strikeout percentage this season is below the 20.4 percent league average -- but he pitched to contact (45.2 percent ground ball rate) and kept the ball in the park (8.3 home run to fly ball ratio).

The other piece in the trade, Brendan Ryan, gives the Cubs a solid fielder capable of playing multiple positions off of the bench. He isn’t much of a hitter, he owns a career .273 wOBA, but he has a career 11.0 UZR/150 at shortstop, while also spending time at the other three infield positions and two corner outfield spots.

The trade looks to be a win for each side, as the Cubs capitalized on an expendable player and improved their pitching and depth, while the Yankees now have their second baseman of today and the future, who’s showed flashes of greatness. I like the move more for the Yankees, however, as Castro still has a potentially high ceiling despite his significant big league experience, and Cashman did not have to give up any crucial pieces on his roster or top prospects to acquire him. 

He may have finally found his replacement for Robinson Cano.