The New York Yankees acquired second baseman Starlin Castro from the Chicago Cubs, finally filling a position that had been nominally vacant since the departure of Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners two years ago. Castro is a fascinating and sometimes maddening player, but the Yankees likely made a good call here. Starlin Castro is a great fit for the Yankees
Castro is only twenty-six but has been around a while since he joined the Cubs at such an early age. He was just 20 when he became a regular at Wrigley Field in 2010, and led the league with 207 hits a year later. He has been durable, too, except for an injury that cost him most of a month in 2014. Castro led the league in at-bats from 2011 to 2013 and has not had fewer than five hundred since his rookie year. He’s made the All-Star team in three of his six seasons.
On the flip side, Castro has not been consistently terrific. He had fairly pedestrian years in 2013 (batting just .245) and in 2015 (a .296 OBP). He no longer runs as often as he did in the beginning of his career, when he had 20+ steals a year. In August of this past season, he was benched in favor of rookie Addison Russell before moving to second base, where he seemed to find himself again. He mashed eleven home runs in September and October with an outstanding OPS of .671. He’s also owed 38 million dollars over the next four seasons, which is a lot of money for a player who hasn’t seemed to fulfill his promise. He was reputed to have some focus issues and clearly didn’t jell with manager Joe Maddon. Maddon had the upper hand there, as the new skipper in town with a shiny new Manager of the Year Award, and once the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist it was clear that Castro would be gone. They tried to trade him throughout the 2015 season but never found a taker. It probably didn’t help that he had some off-field issues, including allegations of a 2011 sexual assault (no charges were filed) and being questioned in connection with a 2014 nightclub shooting in the Dominican Republic.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have spent two Cano-less years parading through Stephen Drew (whose batting average was such a joke that it had its own Twitter account), Jose Pirela, Dustin Ackley, and all-hit-no-field prospect Rob Refsnyder. Now Starlin Castro presumably ends that succession while Dustin Ackley moves to a valuable utility position. Stephen Drew will be playing far, far away, and Pirela is already on the payroll of the San Diego Padres. Refsnyder’s future with the team is unclear. In any case, Castro showed last season that moving to second base would not be an issue for him. A young righty bat, he immediately helps balance a Yankees offense that a) struggled against left-handers last season and b) relied heavily on surprisingly strong seasons – in the first half anyway – from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, both of whom have tires with barely visible tread at this point. The Yankees can probably cover Castro’s guaranteed $38M with just the loose change in Hal Steinbrenner’s pockets right now, while getting a still-young player to add to an aging roster while finally solving their longstanding second-base riddle. He also will be paired with the Yankees’ young shortstop Didi Gregorius, who had a solid first season with the Bombers in 2015. After adding Aaron Hicks to (probably) play center field, the Yankees now have a young core of up-the-middle players if you don’t count catcher Brian McCann, who at 32 years old isn’t exactly Methuselah.
With some players, you worry about how they will respond to being in a media fishbowl. The New York sports media landscape can cast some very bright lights for players who aren’t ready for them. There’s no concern there with Castro. Playing shortstop for the Chicago Cubs isn’t exactly being a bench player on the Fort Wayne TinCaps, and he won’t wilt in the hot glare of the New York lights.
Starlin Castro might have some issues, but when he is on, he can be a terrific addition to a major league club. He has 906 career hits already before his Age-26 season, and a change of scenery could serve him very well. He’s almost certainly a Yankee for at least the next four seasons, and it will be exciting to see how he responds.