12:47pm: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that there’s no talk of Castro/Gardner at this point, as the Yankees’ preference would be to add pitching if they’re to part with Gardner.
9:35am: The Yankees and Cubs have discussed a trade involving outfielder Brett Gardner and infielder Starlin Castro, reports Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. The Yankees have discussed Gardner with many other clubs as well, a source tells Feinsand.
Castro, 26 in March, lost his job as the Cubs’ starting shortstop this past season and eventually took over at second base after a stretch in which he was primarily a bench option. The former All-Star salvaged what was shaping up to be a second dreadful season three years by hitting .366/.390/.643 over his final 119 plate appearances — most of which came as a starter. While a .389 BABIP in that stretch served to artificially inflate his batting line, Castro did slug six homers in that stretch, so something very clearly did click for him at the plate. His bat was largely dormant in the postseason, though, as he hit just .176/.200/.294 (35 plate appearances).
Castro signed a seven-year, $60MM extension with Chicago back in August of 2012 at the tail end of what was a second consecutive All-Star season for the then-22-year-old. Since that time, he’s sandwiched an excellent 2014 campaign in between a pair of awful seasons at the plate, leading to a cumulative .265/.303/.383 batting line from 2013-15.
The remaining $38MM on Castro’s contract is an exact match with the remaining $38MM on Gardner’s deal, though Castro is guaranteed that sum over the life of four full seasons, whereas Gardner is promised $38MM over the next three years. Both players have a club option on their deal — a $16MM club option for the 2020 season ($1MM buyout) in Castro’s case and a $12.5MM club option for the 2019 season ($2MM buyout) in Gardner’s case.
Gardner, 32, is considerably older than Castro but has had much more recent success. The 2015 season was the worst in recent memory for Gardner, although Yankees hitting coach Alan Cockrell recently told the Journal News’ Chad Jennings that a wrist injury submarined Gardner’s second-half production. Gardner was hit by a pitch on the wrist in April, and the effects of the injury lingered all season. As Cockrell explained, a player can only receive three cortisone injections over the course of a single season, and once Gardner was no longer able to receive cortisone treatment in the second half, his bat completely evaporated, leading to his dismal .203/.288/.290 batting line in the season’s final two months. (Overall, Gardner’s .259/.343/.399 triple-slash was still plenty respectable.)
While other pieces may or may not need to be included to bring this trade from discussion to fruition, the framework makes some degree of sense on paper. The Yankees are open to adding help at second base, where the primary internal option is the largely unproven Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley, who hasn’t played second base regularly since 2012. The Cubs, meanwhile, may very well lose Dexter Fowler to free agency and have no immediate in-house replacement in center field. It should also be noted that the Yankees recently acquired a highly athletic young outfielder in Aaron Hicks, who could step into the outfield in Gardner’s stead on an everyday basis. While Hicks hasn’t proven much at the plate after initially being rushed to the Majors, he made some strides offensively in 2015 and is seen as a potentially elite defender in the outfield. The swap would also lessen the Yankees’ luxury tax ledger and decrease the 2016 payroll, perhaps opening the team to further spending. Castro is set to earn $7MM next year compared to Gardner’s $13MM salary.