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Starlin Castro vs. Rob Refsnyder: Who Should Be Yankees' Future at Second Base?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 1, 2015

Should the Yankees trust incumbent youngster Rob Refsnyder, or roll the dice on a trade for Starlin Castro?
Should the Yankees trust incumbent youngster Rob Refsnyder, or roll the dice on a trade for Starlin Castro?Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The guy who used to play there isn't a realistic option, but the New York Yankees clearly need something at second base. As opposed to the, you know, nothing they've gotten out of the position since Robinson Cano left town two years ago.

As far as their options go, it's obviously a choice between Starlin Castro and Rob Refsnyder. Or so we can pretend, anyway.

Though Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News has reported that the Yankees are unlikely to acquire an upgrade at second base—a position where they rank 29th in fWAR since 2014—he's also reported that they have interest in acquiring Castro from the Chicago Cubs.

If the Yankees are going to look beyond their borders for a second baseman, Castro makes sense. Though there are options on the free-agent market, Joel Sherman of the New York Post has noted that the Yankees "pretty much have gotten out of the [free agent] game."

As such, the Yankees will likely stick with what they have if they don't swing a deal for Castro. That would be a platoon of Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley, with the hope presumably being that the 24-year-old Refsnyder (who will turn 25 in March) will emerge as an everyday regular for the long haul.

Now, we could just trust general manager Brian Cashman to make the right call...but nah. Why do that when we can decide for ourselves?

The Case for Castro

Sep 19, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (13) drives in a run against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

From afar, the Yankees' goals for the winter seem clear. They're looking to continue a youth movement without adding too much money to an already bloated payroll.

When considering these two objectives, you get two more reasons why Castro is a logical target.

Though Castro is a six-year MLB veteran, he's only headed for his age-26 season. He should have several more prime years left, and he's already locked up for those seasons at reasonable rates. His contract will pay him about $41.5 million through 2019, with a $16 million option for 2020.

And it shouldn't cost an arm and a leg to acquire Castro in a trade. Feinsand's report mentioned Brett Gardner as a possible exchange for the Cubs, but that's asking too much. Castro is coming off his second bad season out of three, so his trade value isn't at its peak. The Cubs may need to eat some of Castro's contract to get anything of substance, and they might just as soon move the whole thing.

But of course, Castro's diminished trade value is also a complication for the Yankees. He's a young player with a relatively extensive track record, but it's hard to know what he's supposed to be.

When Castro has been good, he's hit around .300 with solid power. This was the case in his first three seasons between 2010 and 2012, and again in 2014 when he hit .292 with 14 homers and a .777 OPS.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

But when Castro has been bad, he's been really bad. This was the case in 2013 and in 2015, in which he hit in the mid-.200s with a sub-.700 OPS. Add in his characteristically subpar defense, and you essentially get a replacement-level player.

Given all this, a trade for Castro would not be a trade for a predictable commodity. It would be a fingers-crossed, pray-to-the-winds upside play, with the hope being that his most consistent days lie ahead.

Fortunately, that's where there is a peg on which to hang hopes.

On the whole, Castro's 2015 was indeed lousy. But he finished it on an extremely strong note, hitting .353 with a .968 OPS in his final 44 games after he was moved from shortstop to second base.

This wasn't an extended stretch of good luck. Castro earned it, putting more balls in play and generally hitting the ball about as well as he had been in 2014:

Starlin Castro Before and During Hot 2015 Finish
SpanK%Line Drive%Hard Contact%
201417.622.3%29.1%
Before Aug. 14, 201516.716.0%21.8%
After Aug. 14, 201512.919.8%29.1%
FanGraphs

Certainly, it helped that Castro was basically being used in a platoon role. But Matt Goldman of Beyond the Box Score noted that a mechanical adjustment at the plate also helped Castro take off, and in general he benefited from adjusting his perspective.

“Right now, [Castro's] in the present tense, man," said Cubs skipper Joe Maddon in late September, via Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times“That’s what we’ve been shooting for. Just to get him to understand the concept of `one,’ and being involved in the moment. And that’s what he’s doing."

As far as the metrics are concerned, Castro's newfound focus on the moment didn't just help him at the plate. Albeit in a small sample size, he rated as a decent defender at second base. 

So, here's the nutshell: Castro's career is the ultimate mixed bag, but he's young, relatively cheap and is coming off an upswing that suggests he could be ready to take off. A trade for him would be the roll of the dice, but the potential payoff is there.

Question is, are the Yankees better off simply rolling the dice on Refsnyder?

The Reasons for Refsnyder

Steven Senne/Associated Press

Remember how we noted that Castro is appealing because he's young, controllable and cheap? Well, that goes double for Refsnyder. 

He's only heading into his age-25 season, is under club control through 2021, and isn't eligible for arbitration until after 2018. He should earn considerably less money in the next six seasons than Castro will in the next four. And because he's already in house, it takes nothing to acquire him.

So, yeah. Refsnyder is clearly the bargain option. At the least, that means moving forward for him is the best way for the Yankees to maintain payroll flexibility. At best, it means he can provide a far better return on investment in the long run.

The tricky part there, though, is that all we can do at this juncture is guess.

Refsnyder owns a .302 career average and an .859 OPS in the majors, but across only 16 games. That's far too small of a sample size to draw conclusions from, so it's what he did in the minors and what's in the scouting report that still hold the most sway. That's where there's good and bad. 

GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

Going into 2015, Refsnyder was ranked by Baseball Prospectus as the Yankees' No. 6 prospect and by Baseball America as the Yankees' No. 7 prospect. The two publications shared similar concerns, notably that Refsnyder has modest power potential, only average speed and is short of awesome defensively.

This leaves us looking at Refsnyder's hit tool, which is fortunately quite good.

His career .290 average and .380 OBP in the minors suggest as much, and that's not a mirage. MLB.com refers to Refsnyder as the "best pure hitter in New York's system," and Baseball America breaks him down like so:

"A short swing and excellent plate discipline help make Refsnyder a strong hitter. He's balanced at the plate, has good hand-eye coordination and has quick hands that help him catch up to good velocity. He sprays line drives all over the diamond."

There's data to back all this up. In his entire pro career, Refsnyder owns an 11.4 BB% and 15.4 K%, a very good balance between walks and strikeouts that reflects his plate discipline and short swing. And thanks to MLB Farm, we can get a solid picture of his all-fields approach:

Image courtesy of MLBFarm.com.

As for Refsnyder's defense, it could be worse. He is a recent convert to the position, after all, and Chris Mitchell of FanGraphs noted this season that Refsnyder's defense "isn’t the train wreck it once was."

As such, there's hope that Refsnyder can be a high-average hitter who at least holds his own defensively. That's another way of saying he may have a future as a Daniel Murphy clone.

Which brings us to the nutshell: Refsnyder is much more of an unknown than Castro is, but he's younger, more controllable and likely cheaper, and he does have the goods to be a consistent regular.

So Then...

Cutting right to the chase, the Yankees should stick with Refsnyder.

They aren't wrong in having Castro on their radar. They do need an upgrade at second base, and he has the upside to be a major upgrade. Possibly a bigger upgrade than Refsnyder can ever hope to be.

But the risk just isn't worth it. 

The Yankees are going to have to give up something to get Castro, and then could be on the hook for roughly $40 million in salary. That's not a huge cost, but it's not a small cost either. Especially when compared to Refsnyder, who costs nothing to acquire and who has many cheap years ahead of him.

And though Refsnyder may not have Castro's upside, he's a safe bet to at least be a solid regular. His hit tool may be all he has, but a hit tool is a valuable thing. Especially at a time when pitchers have the upper hand like never before.

So, if it seems like the Yankees are lacking a sense of urgency about their second base conundrum, don't worry. That may be the whole idea.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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