In 2016, Starlin Castro experienced the much-anticipated leap in power that many scouts had predicted for so many years, perhaps coinciding with Castro’s first season in cozy Yankee Stadium. Starlin posted career-highs in home runs with 21 (previous career-high: 14) and isolated slugging with .163 (.147).
However, that surge in power didn’t correlate to a corresponding uptick in overall production. Castro posted a career-worst in strikeout rate (19.3 percent) and walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.20), leading to a disappointing .270/.300/.433 line and .250 TAv. Further, Castro didn’t post better defensive numbers by moving to second base on a permanent basis for the first time. In fact, he was significantly worse by virtually every single defensive metric. Any single defensive metric should be taken with a grain of salt, especially in a one-year sample, but it tends to say something when all of the metrics agree. Fielding Runs Above Average, Ultimate Zone Rating, and Defensive Runs Saved all rated Castro’s defense worse than in even his last couple seasons, which were spent at the more demanding shortstop position.
The regression in both offense and defense led to a disappointing output overall, as Castro posted a WARP of 0.9 after a combined 5.1 over the previous two seasons. Sure, 0.9 wins is a positive number, but remember that zero represents replacement level, not league average. There’s a big difference between replacement level and league average. Even the grimmest of evaluations on Castro would indicate he deserves a spot on a major league roster, but his output last season was well below league average, especially for a starter.
PECOTA projections don’t appear to be released yet for 2017, so we will use Steamer, which already has their 2017 projections available. Steamer has Starlin Castro forecasted for 1.2 wins above replacement next season to go along with a .267/.306/.413 line and a rebound in defensive value to previous seasons’ levels. You could make an argument that the slash line is slightly pessimistic, if you believe Castro can return to his .280 career batting average while maintaining his 2016 power. However, that’s probably countered by the major uptick in defense projected by Steamer, which is contrarily optimistic. Overall, 1.2 wins is probably not a bad projection for Castro.
And this is where the issue lies. Ignoring the fact that Castro is the de facto starting second baseman and is set to earn a combined $30 million over the next three seasons, not to mention a team option for 2020, there is the elephant in the room — the Yankees have better available second basemen.
Look no further than Rob Refsnyder, whom Steamer has projected for a superior .274/.341/.396 line. Refsnyder also comes with a consistent track record of minor league success, and should he succeed as the starting keystone, he would generate much more value because he would be under team control for the next six seasons, three of them at the league minimum.
Another alternative would be Ronald Torreyes, someone I already wrote about in August as an intriguing player. Torreyes is another player who could contribute similar value at a much lower cost, and with much more potential future benefits to reap.
Refsnyder and Torreyes probably offer a similar class of defense to Castro; however, should the Yankees opt for an upgrade on the defensive end, they could try youngster Tyler Wade. Wade offers little to no power on the offensive end, but he just put up a .352 on-base percentage as a 21 year-old over a full season in AA and comes with a strong defensive reputation from all of the scouting reports.
Now, what exactly am I suggesting? None of this talk is to say that I expect any of Refsnyder, Torreyes, or Wade to out-produce Starlin Castro. But I do think there’s a reasonable chance that one of them could put up comparable production. While I’m not advocating for the Yankees to bench Castro, or even deal him if they have to eat any of the money, I do think it makes sense to move him if there’s any type of market for him out there.
There probably isn’t any market for him as a starting second baseman; as we can see from the whole Brian Dozier negotiations over the last few weeks, the Dodgers seem to be the only contender in need of a second baseman, and Dozier is far superior to Castro on a cheaper contract. The Twins have desperately tried to pull other potential buyers in to create competition, but no other team has stepped up.
However, what if the Yankees were to market Castro as a starting shortstop? It may sound a little bit outlandish at first, but the numbers do support that notion. By Baseball Prospectus’ metrics, Castro was an above-average fielder for four of his six seasons as a shortstop. Fangraphs had him as a league-average defender over his entire aggregate tenure at short as well.
Among contending teams (or teams trying to contend), advertising Starlin Castro as a shortstop might open up the market for the Pirates, Mets, and Diamondbacks, as Castro probably represents an upgrade on Jordy Mercer, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Chris Owings respectively. Castro comes with ample team control and will be just 27 years old for all of 2017, so even rebuilding teams such as the Padres, Rays, and possibly Twins could be interested in Castro’s services.
Again, I’d like to reiterate that the goal isn’t to move Castro just to move him. Unlike with Brian McCann, Castro isn’t blocking a surefire building block of the future. However, eventually Jorge Mateo and Gleyber Torres will get here if everything goes according to plan (hint: it rarely does), and there are current in-house options that can produce at a roughly similar level to Castro, so there is neither an obvious short-term or long-term fit for Starlin Castro, rendering him a prime trade candidate should the Yankees have the opportunity of acquiring something meaningful for him.
Photo: Brad Penner / USA Today Sports