Jason Castro will be one of the most sought after MLB free agents this offseason because of his ability at the plate and behind it.
The current free agent class is one of the worst that has been seen in quite a few years. With almost no starting pitchers of value, just a few high end relievers, and a tiny group of adequate hitters, teams looking to upgrade their rosters this winter will have a tough time.
At catcher, teams struggle to find an adequate player even in a large pool of impressive free agents. Attempting to find a catcher that can both provide substantial offense and handle himself behind the plate can be incredibly difficult. Often the decision comes down to choosing one or the other.
Jason Castro is one of the catchers that manages to fulfill both what teams want at the plate and with the glove. He’s no Buster Posey, or even Yasmani Grandal, but he was about league average for catchers this season with a .210/.307/.377 line. Although he doesn’t handle the bat as impressively as the two aforementioned catchers, he fell in line just behind them in framing, according to Baseball Prospectus. That value behind the plate can’t be understated.
For these reasons, he will receive quite a few suitors during this offseason. Already it has been reported that three American League teams are interested in Castro. While there was no report stating which three American League teams actually expressed interest, it is known that the Astros are looking to keep him. Other teams in the American League that may have interest are the Twins, Rays, Orioles, and White Sox.
A team in the National League that could sneak up and sign him is the Chicago Cubs. With the retirement of David Ross, and the comments Miguel Montero made following the World Series victory about playing time, the Cubs may be in the market for a catcher to complement Willson Contreras. Castro would fit the Cubs’ affinity to framers, but wouldn’t entirely make sense because of an inability to have a catching platoon. If they are willing to punt on offense in exchange for framing, they might as well stick with Montero, comments about playing time and all.
The Minnesota Twins were expected to at least make some noise in an AL Central division that had no heavy favorite entering the 2016 season. Instead, they bottomed out early in the season and never climbed their way out of the basement. The Twins have the bare bones of a roster that could be built to compete in the coming years.
While they have quite a few holes in the roster that require mending before they are ready to compete, catcher is one of the many. Kurt Suzuki burdened a majority of the catching load for the Twins this season, but he is now a free agent. It doesn’t look like the Twins are going to try to bring him back, so that leaves Juan Centeno and John Ryan Murphy in his wake.
Centeno had nearly 200 plate appearances last season, in which he hit .261/.312/.392 with a 88 wRC+. He showed a some pop in his bat with a .131 ISO and three home runs, but there remains a lot to be desired there. As for John Ryan Murphy, he had just 90 plate appearances in which he was utterly disappointing at the plate. He hit just .146/.193/.220 during his short exposure with the team.
Those two players leave a lot to be desired at the plate. If the Twins plan on rebuilding their pitching staff with young players, the benefits of having a framer behind the plate would be great. Castro would both provide an upgrade as a hitter as well as a veteran presence with the glove. Centeno and Castro would create a great platoon, which could be beneficial to both hitters.
The Twins don’t appear in any position to spend money to add to their current roster, but an addition like Castro could be a good fit for them. As mentioned, he would act as a leader to young pitchers both by his framing ability and the amount of knowledge he has amassed over his years of catching. It would require an investment in a player over the age of 30, but could provide many benefits to the team overall.
The Tampa Bay Rays face a tough road. In their division they have the Yankees and Red Sox, who are more than willing to spend money to create a winning roster. They also have the Blue Jays, who have made noise in the postseason the past two years with a powerful offense. This past season the Orioles emerged as a contender, making the postseason. Needless to say, they require quite a few upgrades to compete in their division and reach the postseason.
Already this offseason they were called out by star pitcher Chris Archer for needing to spend more money. Surely a move for a catcher that handles himself well behind the plate would make the ace happy. The Rays’ catching system was full of inconsistency throughout the entire 2016 season. Four different catchers had 96 plate appearances or more. None of those catchers really impressed at the plate.
While inconsistency defined the Rays’ catchers during the 2016 season, consistency could be provided by signing Castro. Castro is best suited to fit into a platoon role that would limit his plate appearances against left-handed pitching, but even without a platoon partner he could provide a massive upgrade in terms of consistency. Castro has played in over 100 games in each of the past four seasons. In each of those seasons he has provided average offense (relative to catchers) and impressive defense behind the plate.
The Rays will have to spend if they want to compete. Whether now is the right time to put all their eggs in the basket and try to compete or not remains to be seen. It won’t be easy with the Yankees and Red Sox both having bundles of talented young players as well as the financial flexibility to spend large amounts of money. However, the Rays do have an ace in Archer as well as two really talented position players in Evan Longoria and Kevin Kiermaier. They can get closer to competing if they are willing to spend more money. Jason Castro could be move number one in the right direction.
The Baltimore Orioles extended a qualifying offer to Matt Wieters during the previous offseason. They were shocked when he accepted the offer, foregoing free agency. With Matt Wieters fully a free agent now, the Orioles are in the market for a catcher to replace him.
The Orioles are one of just a few teams on this list that were competitive during the 2016 season. They held the AL East lead for a good portion of the season, but finished in a Wild Card position. Their postseason run was incredibly brief, getting cut short by a Blue Jays Wild Card Game win in extra innings. Despite their postseason ending so suddenly, they appear to be in a good place to compete in the 2017 season. They face similar obstacles as the Rays, being in an incredibly competitive division. However, they have a better head start on having a competitive roster than the Rays do.
Where Castro would be part of a beginning in Tampa Bay, he would be a immediate filler for a competing Orioles team. On a team that struggles to develop good young pitchers to the best of their potential, having a great framer behind the plate could prove to be incredibly valuable.
Matt Wieters has a slight edge on Castro in the hitting department, posting a .243/.302/.409 slash line this past season. Wieters, however, does not have the defensive acumen of Castro. If the Orioles can get a good offensive season out of Castro, he would provide a huge boost to a team that needs just a slight push to once again compete in a very tough division.
The Orioles’ relative position to compete compared to the other teams in on Castro gives them a slight edge to sign him. Castro will certainly be looking for a place to play where he can have a chance to win a championship at age 30. The Orioles may be the best team to provide him with that chance.
The Chicago White Sox still seem uncertain whether they will rebuild or go for it in 2017. Regardless of the path they take, they will need someone to fill in at catcher. Last season they non-tendered Tyler Flowers and added both Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro. Avila was injured for a good portion of the season, and Navarro was one of the worst players in all of baseball. It was a mess of a catcher situation for a team that thought it would compete in a relatively weak Central division. However, they were able to find a diamond in the rough in Omar Narvaez.
Narvaez notably hit well during a small sample size and against mostly right handed pitching. He also worked well with Carlos Rodon and other White Sox pitchers. Despite Narvaez being a great find in a weak farm system, the White Sox are still in need of a catcher to take on a majority of the games in 2017.
Jason Castro would be a good fit for quite a few reasons. The most obvious reason is that he would fit well in a platoon role with Omar Narvaez. Narvaez was great against right-handed pitching, and Castro was great against southpaws.
As far as defense goes, it is questionable whether the White Sox even take that into account when making catcher decisions. Tyler Flowers was one of the better framers in the league during the 2015 season, and the White Sox non-tendered him because they thought they could upgrade offensively. Dioner Navarro, one catcher they used to replace Flowers, was the very worst framer in 2016. If they ignore framing altogether or simply think it has no value, they likely won’t be willing to spend money on Castro.
For roster-filling purposes alone, the White Sox will probably be in the hunt for Jason Castro. Even if they decide to trade their top-of-the-rotation pitchers in Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, they will want a catching duo that can properly handle young pitching. Castro would be a large upgrade over anyone else available on the free agent market, so the White Sox would be wise to spend a small amount of their precious cash on an adequate catcher in Jason Castro.
The final team that will pursue Jason Castro is the team he has played for his entire career. The Astros have expressed interest in keeping him, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Frankly, it makes sense for the Astros to want to keep him on the roster. Their other catching option this season was Evan Gattis, who was notably bad behind the plate.
The Astros can easily afford to have Gattis play behind the plate when needed because of the offensive value he brings. The opposite is the case for Jason Castro. For a young team that appears to still be on the cusp of competing for a championship, having a veteran catcher can be incredibly valuable. The Astros will likely be searching a bare free agent pitching market for rotation upgrades. Any little help from the man behind the plate could help the Astros get the best value out of their pitching staff.
Like the Orioles, the Astros’ ability to compete for a place in the postseason during 2017 provides them with some leverage in pursuing the 30-year-old catcher. In fact, the Astros are probably in an even better situation than the Orioles. With Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa bound to have great seasons once again, the Astros should be very good this coming season. It would be in their best interest to keep as much talent as they can.
Jason Castro would leave a roster hole in his wake, which would put the Astros in a tough situation. Relying on Evan Gattis as the sole catcher would be a huge mistake. They could sign a different free agent catcher, but the market is very thin. In the end, if the Astros truly want to push for the postseason in 2017, they would be wise to offer Jason Castro a good amount of money to stick around.