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Yankees find their solution at second base in Starlin Castro

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Yankees fans won’t have Stephen Drew to kick around any more.

The Cubs’ acquisition of Ben Zobrist on Tuesday night necessitated a trade as Chicago had to address its excess at second base with Zobrist and Starlin Castro. The Yankees, with more of an abscess at second base, made for the perfect partner. Thus, an interesting swap of young, affordable, team-controlled and possible undervalued players was born.

To get Castro, the Yankees had to part with jack-of-all-trades pitcher Adam Warren. He was the Band-Aid for their staff in 2015. When they needed him to start during the first half of the year, he posted a 3.59 ERA through 14 turns. As the rotation got healthier in the second half (and as Luis Severino cemented his starting role), Warren was moved back to the bullpen, a place where he had thrived in 2014. His K per 9 rate shot back over 9.0 and, for the year, he limited hitters to a .208/.271/.333 slash line.* He’s got a four-pitch mix and is under team control through 2018. Warren, 28, was a unheralded luxury, and the Yankees will miss him once some part of their fragile starting rotation inevitably breaks again.

*And along with the trade of Justin Wilson on Wednesday, New York now has to answer the question of who is going to fill those sixth and seventh innings out of the pen.

But everyone knew the Yankees had to fix their handicap at second base someway, somehow. That group finished 2015 with a -1.1 WAR and the sixth-lowest wOBA (.286) among all teams at 2B.

That latter stat would have been worse if not for the 24 homers supplied by the combination of Drew, Rob Refsnyder, Dustin Ackley and Jose Pirela. Seventeen of those HRs came off of Drew’s bat, but those hits provided little pause to the vitriol and blame J.D.’s younger brother took from the Bronx faithful last year. Of course, the rest of Drew’s numbers weren’t going to win him many fans no matter where he played. His .274 on-base percentage was fifth-worst among hitters who saw at least 400 plate appearances. When you combine his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, his OPS+ of 66 put him ahead of only such luminaries as Alexi Amarista, Eric Sogard and Omar Infante (min. 600 PAs).

Drew, who turns 33 in March, is a free agent, so his days with the team were done well before Tuesday’s trade was completed. But now it is official: Starlin Castro is the Yankees’ new everyday second baseman.

Now, do you wanna see something scary if you’re a supporter of the Pinstripes?

2015 slash lines through Aug. 11:
Castro: .235/.271/.303
Drew: .192/.259/.384

That’s not what the Yankees are paying for. They traded a valuable, versatile pitcher (and Brendan Ryan) and decided to take on Castro’s four-year, $38 million contract for what he did after AFTER Aug. 11, the first day of Castro’s transition from shortstop to full-time second baseman.

Castro slashed .353/.374/.594 through his final 44 games of the regular season. He was one of 13 players to record an OPS better than 1.000 in September and October (min. 80 ABs). Who were the 12 other players?

David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion, Kendrys Morales, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Carpenter, Shin-Soo Choo and Nolan Arenado. OK.

Castro’s power during this time was most likely a fluke; he hit five home runs during that span but has yet to clear 15 homers in any of his six MLB seasons. And no one’s expecting him to be that much of a stud at the plate with the Yankees. However, there are reasons to expect him to be significantly better than that guy who was hitting in the mid-.230s during the season’s dog days.

Although Castro is only 25 years old, he’s a three-time All-Star with a 200-hit season on his resume. He already has nearly 1,000 career base hits. His total output has been up and down for the past few years, but if his BAbip normalizes (.298 last year; .321 career average) in connection with some of his batted-ball rates (career-high 54.1 percent ground ball and career-low 17 percent line drive rates last year), Castro should be a league-average player if not a bit better in terms of OPS+. That doesn’t sound very enticing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than someone putting up a 66 OPS+. Furthermore, Castro’s defense improved once he was moved to the right side of the diamond last year.

This deal isn’t a franchise-changer, and Castro’s persistent lack of plate discipline makes it hard to watch him at times. Yet, he also possesses many of the attributes that Brian Cashman and the Yankees are looking for in players while they do their Christmas shopping:

Young? Check. Under team control? Check. Provides defensive flexibility? Check. Provides some athleticism? Check. Relatively inexpensive? The Yankees will pay Castro $19 million less than the Cubs will pay 34-year-old Ben Zobrist over the same four-year period. So … check.

And probably most crucial for Yankees fans: Not Stephen Drew? Check.

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