The Starlin Castro acquisition was perhaps GM Brian Cashman’s most polarizing move of the winter for Yankees fans. Not only did the team have to surrender valuable swingman Adam Warren, who was New York’s best starter for long stretches of 2015, but their incumbent second baseman Rob Refsnyder is projected by ZiPS to produce nearly identical value (95 wRC+ and 1.7 WAR for Refsnyder vs. 92 wRC+ and 1.9 WAR for Castro) next season without Castro’s $40 million price tag. Castro’s resume is undeniably impressive for a 25 year old. He’s been named an All Star in three of his first six seasons, received a few MVP votes, and accumulated almost 1000 hits. On the other hand, his 80 wRC+ in 2015 was tenth worst among all qualified batters. That was hardly a fluke, as in 2013 he was even more futile offensively. His 74 wRC+ that year was the fifth worst in MLB. By WARP, he has been an above average regular in three seasons (4.4, 3.9, 3.6), average or slightly below in two (2.1, 1.5), and exactly replacement level in one. So the question is, which version of Starlin Castro did the Yankees acquire?
PECOTA predictably expects him to settle somewhere in the middle. It projects a .277/.316/.418 line and 2.8 WARP in 2016. While the Yankees would probably lock that production in in a heartbeat, Castro’s hot spring combined with his insane September after switching to second base are teasing the possibility of much more than a solid regular. In his final 27 games of 2015, Castro hit .369/.400/.655 (185 wRC+) with five home runs. The fact that the strong finish corresponded almost exactly with his position switch is likely a coincidence, but is still worth noting. Especially interesting is that Castro remains locked in during the first few weeks of the Grapefruit League while continuing to play second. He’s batted .417/.440/.750 with two home runs in 25 PAs this spring, including this mammoth shot off the batter’s eye in Pittsburgh’s McKechnie Field:
While a number of players have reacted badly to the intensity of New York’s media glare after being acquired by the Yankees, that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Castro. Following years of being asked to be the star of the Cubs, he may benefit from being just another guy on the Yankees. He’s hitting in the bottom third of the lineup. He seems to have had no problem fitting in, developing a quick rapport with middle infield partner Didi Gregorius. What are the odds Cashman fleeced Theo Epstein out of a superstar this winter? Not great. But the early returns are at the very least encouraging that the Yankees will be seeing the above-average version of Starlin Castro in 2016 rather than the replacement level model.