When the Yankees acquired Starlin Castro, the organization had hoped that his 2013 and 2015 seasons were outliers. The former Cubs shortstop was a strong hitter relative to the league and his position in other years. Though his two down years in Chicago were scary, it felt like the Yankees were buying low on the young infielder when they acquired him for Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan. Castro, 26, was set to be the second baseman through 2019 thanks to a reasonably priced extension signed while with the Cubs. Remember, at the time of the Castro deal, Gleyber Torres wasn't around and Jorge Mateo was still in A-ball. There was nothing in Castro's rearview mirror.
Fast forward to the end of his first full season in the Bronx, and it appears that the Yankees' front office might have some buyer's remorse. That, and a shiny prospect in Torres who is poised to snag the role in the next couple of years. In an article highlighting ownership's reluctance to spend on another reliever, Joel Sherman revealed that the Yankees had shopped Castro over the past couple of months:
Meanwhile, the Yankees have been unable to deal Brett Gardner, Chase Headley or Starlin Castro, who they let some clubs know was available.
That Gardner and Headley have been available is unsurprising. That Castro was also dangled is somewhat unexpected. After all, he wasn't completely terrible last year and Torres still needs at least another year or two of seasoning. Mateo didn't take any steps forward, either. Performance-wise, there were a few positives to take away from Catro's 2016 campaign. His power production was better than expected, as he touched off on 21 home runs. He seemed to take to his new position, second base, fairly well. Piecing everything together, though, Castro's performance was unquestionably underwhelming if we were to expect results similar to his glory days in Chicago. His 94 wRC+ was below the league average mark for second baseman, 101, and his touch above 1 WAR was third-worst among qualified second basemen. Apparently, that was enough for the Yankees to consider moving on from its 26 year-old infielder owed $30M through 2019.
The front office's willingness to shop Castro raises a few questions:
1. Did the front office have an immediate external replacement in mind?
Free agency lacked any serious candidates for second base. The best option would have been Neil Walker had he not accepted the qualifying offer from the Mets. Another player that comes to mind is Justin Turner, who has some history at the position, though not recently. He's been entrenched at the hot corner in recent seasons and his ability to play second now is questionable. If Castro was moved, the trade route would have been more plausible. We saw players like Howie Kendrick and Logan Forsythe change teams this winter, and perhaps the Yankees were interested in either of the two. Brian Dozier's name came up in plenty of rumors as well, and the Yankees were even connected to him at one point. Given the internal options (more on that in a second), I'd have to imagine that there was an external contingency plan if a Castro deal came to fruition.
2. Was there a chance that Rob Refsnyder would have assumed the second base role?
Remember the love affair with Robby Ref back in 2014 and 2015? He raked at Triple-A but never got much of a chance to take the reigns at second base, seemingly because of his trouble with the glove. Would the Yankees actually have given him a chance now in 2017? I highly doubt it considering that he's been eschewed in recent years. That being said, Refsnyder is the best alternative in the organization at this moment. If the front office was serious about dealing Castro, there must have been some thought about settling for Refsnyder.
Interestingly enough, Steamer projects Refsnyder to be essentially the equivalent of Castro in 2017 on a rate basis. Prorated to 600 plate appearances, Refsnyder projects for a higher wRC+ (99 vs. 90) but worse defense. Take it with a grain of salt, but it's out there. For what it's worth, ZiPS convincingly has a stronger projection for Castro. Depending on your preferred projection system, it's not like Refsnyder is that far behind Castro's expected output. So maybe running out Refsnyder for a full season wouldn't have been totally crazy? Maybe, just maybe.
3. Were there any alternative motives behind shopping Castro?
Just because the front office made Castro available doesn't necessarily mean they were intent on trading him. Rather, it's possible that they were testing the water to see what they could get for him. There's no harm in finding out how other clubs value the Dominican second baseman. It didn't happen, but there was always a chance that some team could have blown the Yanks away with an incredible offer.
With some feelers out there for Castro's going rate, the Yankees should have a better understanding of what he could fetch in a trade midseason. If the Yankees are out of it and are willing to give Refsnyder or even Tyler Wade a try, the deadline might be the time to strike, especially if Castro rebounds with the bat. Selling high would be ideal, though that may only work in theory.
Regardless of what happens with Castro between now and the deadline or even thereafter, it appears that Castro won't be in pinstripes by the time his contract runs out. Aside from the prospects the club has shooting through the ranks that could be gunning for his position soon, Castro simply hasn't become the player he had once shown flashes of becoming. Maybe he will somewhere else, but he's running out of time to do so in the Bronx.
The initial move to acquire Castro was a reasonable undertaking given the measly return to Chicago, but one year later, it seems like the best move would be to part ways with the second baseman as soon as the prospects (i.e. Torres) are ready. Fortunately, given Castro's age and contract status, the Yankees have time on their side and don't necessarily need to trade him this season. After all, a stopgap is needed and Castro can still fit that bill.