Typically, I usually let the guys who cover the big-league team comment on trades like this, because obviously, the Yankees didn’t obtain or lose anyone who is expected to help the RailRiders this season. But this one…I don’t know. I’ve been thinking a lot about the deal that sends Starlin Castro to the Yankees and Adam Warren and presumably Brendan Ryan to the Chicago Cubs. And here are the only two conclusions I’ve come up with:
1.) I kinda, sorta think I might have pulled the trigger on this deal, if I were Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
2.) I kinda, sorta think the Yankees shouldn’t have made this trade.
OK, these are obviously conflicting points. I’d have made the trade, but I don’t think they should have. I know how that sounds. I also know how this is going to sound: There’s no way this is the last move the Yankees make. There has to be another move or three coming up, because this just seems to me like the first move of a bit of a roster overhaul, and not just one move to plug in one spot.
That said, on the surface, I understand why Yankees fans are much happier with the future at second base now than they were 24 hours ago. But I can also see Yankees fans wondering at some point in 2016 or beyond how much better things would be if they still had someone like Warren on the pitching staff.
Let’s start with my take on Castro, who admittedly is the player I know by far the least about in this trade.
– He’s a three-time All-Star who is just one year (almost to the day) older than the Yankees’ young option at second base, Rob Refsnyder.
– He’s a .281 career hitter who has 62 homers and pretty consistent power.
– He defended second base well last season, certainly better than any other option the Yankees had in the organization.
– His number spiked last year after being moved to second base exclusively in late August (.352/.378/.610 with 10 doubles, one triple, five homers and 22 RBIs in 33 games).
I also know this about Castro.
– He can be a dynamic player at times, but for too-large stretches, he has been a wholly ineffective one. The Cubs have had him in their system since 2006, and in the big leagues since 2010, and they, too, had him under team control for a long period of time beyond the 2016 season on a fairly team-friendly deal. Fully aware of all of this for sure, the Cubs still traded for a young shortstop (Addison Russell) and still used a first-round pick in 2011 on a middle infielder (Javier Baez) and still spent a not-so-cheap going rate on a free-agent second baseman this offseason (Ben Zobrist). The Cubs were always going hard after backup plans.
– He is not a Yankees-type of player. He’s a guy whose career on-base percentage is .321, which is only slightly better than Stephen Drew’s .318. And to be frank, .318 would have been an improvement for Castro over the last three seasons, when over 446 games and 1,852 plate appearances, his on-base percentage is a middling .305. That’s not exactly the “small sample size” the statisticians like to complain about. That’s a trend. And not a good one.
– He’s a guy who strikes out more than he should for a hitter who isn’t going to hit 20-25 homers. He has struck out 90-plus times each of the last five years, and his contact percentage — the percentage of swings on which he makes contact — (while still pretty good) has decreased every season in the big leagues:
In short, he’s not exactly trending toward less strikeouts.
– If you’re someone who puts a lot of stock in the WAR stat (I’m on the “What is it good for?” side myself), that doesn’t exactly make Castro look like a dominant player, either. He was a 3.0 and a 3.4 in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Since, he has been a minus-0.4, a 2.1 and a 0.6. And I believe that’s as a shortstop. The Yankees might be unrealistic to expect much better than a league-average second baseman. Maybe he bucks the trends, of course. But the trends are the trends.
So after all that, you may be wondering as I am, “Then, why would you have kinda, sorta, probably made the trade?” And that’s simple: Because on paper, and at any point in baseball history, this is a trade you make. You take a three-time all-star with dynamic athletic ability who is just 25 and is an every day player every time if it’s just costing your pitching staff its swing man and your bench its light-hitting backup shortstop (when he’s even healthy).
But, I wonder if this is not one of those times in history when the Yankees maybe overvalued the All-Star and undervalued Warren, the right-hander nobody ever seems to talk about. Undervalued him maybe not as a contributor, because I think the Yankees really liked him a lot. But certainly, undervalued him as a trading chip.
Sure, I think if Cashman thought he could have gotten more for Warren, he would have taken more, or asked for more. But the trend around the industry this offseason has been veteran pitchers raking in big-time contracts. What would you have thought, last year at this time, if I told you J.A. Happ would get a three-year, $36 million deal this offseason? But that’s the price OK starters are getting. Great ones, like David Price and Zach Greinke, are getting an average of better than $30 million per year.
That means young starters who have some years left before they hit free agency are suddenly at an even greater premium, with teams willing to pay big prices to obtain them on the trade market.
It started quietly enough, when Seattle sent one-time great prospect Logan Morrison, promising utility man Brad Miller and reliever Danny Farquhar, its closer in 2014, to Tampa Bay in a deal that centered for the Mariners on 27-year-old right-hander Nathan Karns, who has one full big-league season as a starting pitcher (3.67 ERA, 1.279 WHIP and 8.9 K/9 last season). Sure, the Mariners also got a talented young outfielder (Boog Powell) and a lefty (C.J. Riefenhauser) they later flipped to Baltimore as part of the Mark Trumbo trade that netted a good young catcher, Steve Clevenger. But the jewel of a trade for Seattle in which it gave up three players on its big league roster was Karns, who is a solid young prospect under team control through 2021.
The Yankees have been one of those teams publicly looking for young, controllable pitching who has found the price to be skyrocketing. Reports indicate they’ve been in on the Jose Fernandez talks with Miami, but some of those reports indicate that the Dodgers — who have a deeper system right now than the Yankees do, according to most around the game — were asked for one or both of their top two prospects — shortstop Corey Seager and lefty Julio Urias — as a foundation of a deal, and the Dodgers considered that a non-starter.
Admittedly, that sounded like too much even for Jose Fernandez, who becomes arbitration-eligible next season and is only under team control through 2019.
But I’m not so sure anymore that’s not the going rate.
Shortly after news of the Castro trade broke, we learned the Arizona Diamondbacks had acquired right-hander Shelby Miller from Atlanta and sent their top prospect (shortstop Dansby Swanson) and their No. 2 prospect (pitcher Aaron Blair) AND a really solid big-league outfielder, Ender Inciarte to the Braves in return.
I ask myself: Who would the Yankees have had to give the Braves to match that offer? I think you’d have to start with Luis Severino (who last year at this time was like Blair, who dominated Double-A and Triple-A but didn’t pitch in the majors), and add Jorge Mateo (the shortstop prospect that would, conceivably, match Swanson) and then…where’s your cheap, productive big-league ready outfielder? I don’t think it’s inconceivable the Braves would have wanted Aaron Judge in this spot, even though he’s nothing like Inciarte as a player. Mason Williams is, but Inciarte has two full years of big-league experience, a .292 average, 40 steals and 72 RBIs and 45 doubles and seven triples. Why would you want an unproven guy over that? So really, I think the most similar offer the Yankees could have made to the one the Diamondbacks did to get some young, gifted, controllable starting pitching was Severino-Mateo-Judge. And that’s not for Jose Fernandez. That’s for Shelby Miller!
By no means am I going to sit here and waste my time writing about how Adam Warren is comparable to those two pitchers, that Brian Cashman didn’t get enough for him. Because, those are two of the elite young pitchers in the game, and Warren is a very good pitcher, and there’s a big difference between those two distinctions.
But Warren is only 28. He has three more years of team control. He has excelled as both a middle reliever and a starter, and shifting back and forth has not seemed to affect him. Since being used more regularly in 2013, he has posted very consistent, if not attention-grabbing, numbers. He’s working off back-to-back very similar seasons.
The Yankees are a team that went into the offseason looking for young, controllable pitching. And now, they’re down arguably their second-best young, controllable pitcher. There is no obvious replacement for him in the system, either. Can Ivan Nova be a sixth starter? Sure. Can he serve as a set-up man? Maybe. Can he do both interchangeably? Eh…
Warren was a good, young, cheap, useful pitcher. And in today’s market, they command a hefty price on the trade market. The Yankees have a history of taking someone else’s young prospect and getting the most out of them at the big league level, and they know it. Surely, they’re banking on getting a better version of Starlin Castro than the Cubs got. But this is not a slam dunk. It’s a good gamble, for sure. But now, the Yankees have to find someone who can do the job Warren did.
And the price of that someone is a three-time All-Star.