Guess they proved me wrong. After spending the first day and a half of the Winter Meetings doing a lot of nothing, the Yankees decided to take their sandals off and jump in the pool yesterday, sending Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan to the Chicago Cubs for second baseman Starlin Castro. Castro has been on and off the trade block for a while in Chicago and the Yankees were trying to trade for him at the deadline this past season. When the Cubs landed Ben Zobrist last night, things sped up quickly on the Castro trade front and the Yankees were able to make a deal. For the fifth time in the last calendar year plus the Yankees have acquired a young MLB player with upside to fuel their non-rebuild rebuild.
It's hard to really say what the Yankees are getting in Castro. His .281/.321/.404 career slash line makes him look like a pretty good player, but his low walk rate (4.9%), wildly inconsistent year-to-year results, and reported previous attitude and discipline problems are all causes for concern and surely contributed to the Cubs deciding he was the odd man out in their crowded middle infield. Castro was one of the worst everyday players in baseball in 2015 (80 wRC+ in 578 PA) and 2013 (74 in 705). He also put up a career best season in 2014 when he hit .292/.339/.438 with 14 HR, 65 RBI, and a 6.2% BB rate. Obviously the Yankees are hoping they get that player or the guy who hit .353/.373/.588 in 42 games after moving from shortstop to second base this past season.
If they do, then this deal becomes an easy W for them. Despite all his warts, Castro is still only 25 years old. As Chad Jennings pointed out on Twitter last night, he's barely a year older than Rob Refsnyder, which means there's plenty of time for him to continue to improve and become a more consistent hitter. He does make a lot of contact, he's shown the ability to hit for average, he has legit power, and he's a good athlete. He doesn't have a sizable platoon split either, but it's worth mentioning that he's a .295/.344/.415 hitters against left-handed ptiching.
Most importantly, Castro's presence at second base gives the Yankees another right-handed bat to balance the lineup and a much better backup option behind Didi at short than the departed Ryan. The Yankees were never convincing in their statements about the Ackley/Refs platoon at second. This was the position they most needed to upgrade, and they did that.
As with the Aaron Hicks trade, the Yankees addressed a need by trading from a position of surplus. Yes, Warren had been a vital piece of the pitching staff and yes he showed some promise as a starter when he got his chance this year. But he was probably looking at another go-round as the 6th starter swingman at best this season, and the Yankees already have that role covered with Nova and CC. They need another legitimate MLB starter and they clearly didn't see Warren in that light. The Cubs are a better fit for Warren to get his chance at being a regular starter and the Yanks can make up for his loss with another trade, a cheap FA signing, and their own collection of internal relief prospect depth. If everything plays out positively, this deal is an easy win-win for both sides.
With regards to Ryan, I don't think there's much analysis needed there. Getting anybody to take him would have been a good deal for Cash if all he got in return was a pack of baseball cards. The fact that he was able to do it as a throw-in piece to a deal that netted him a much, much better version of Ryan is gravy. And not to worry, the Yanks already have Ryan's "guy who can't hit worth a damn but somehow gets a roster spot" role covered through the signing of Pete Kozma.
Because payroll and spending restrictions and luxury taxes are all hot topics in Yankeeland again, it's worth mentioning the money involved in this deal. Warren and Ryan are making peanuts, but Castro is smack dab in the middle of a 7-year deal he signed back in 2013. He is currently owed $38 million over the final 4 years of the deal and the Cubs did not pick up a cent of that. Paying $7 mil to a guy who was one of the lowest WAR players in baseball last year might not seem like it fits the current Yankee plans, but paying less than $10 mil per year for the potential of Castro's age 26-29 seasons could be a steal if the Yankees are able to straighten him out. Considering the strong veteran presence in their locker room and the A-Rod factor, I have to think they believe they can and they will. Assuming the qualifying offer system is still around after the 2019 season and Castro does enough to earn one, the Yanks will also have the opportunity to recoup a draft pick for him. That's a nice bonus.
All things considered, I think there's a lot to like here from a Yankee perspective. They continued to get younger, they got better at their weakest position while simultaneously improving their backup middle infield depth, they added another righty bat for more balance, and they did it without trading away any of their top prospects or key players that they couldn't win without. There are more moves to be made, and Refsnyder immediately becomes the next potential trade piece, but this was a good start to the Yankees' Winter Meetings activities. If they're able to leave on Thursday with a starter, it'll be a good week.