Astros offseason: Jason Castro and the history of catcher extensions

Bob Levey

Baseball is boring right now (because they're not playing). So, let's answer a question you never even asked.

Monday was a day of no news and dull posting. What happened Tuesday? Maybe some Tanaka news!

Haha. Good joke. Except it's false. Tanaka didn't pick a team. He picked a new Twitter AVI. Things are so desperate around baseball news that things like this occur.

So, that's it. We're shuttering the shop. We're going on a two-week vacation and not looking back until pitchers and catchers...(what's that? We can't shut it down? ohhkay)

Since we "can't shut off the internet entirely for two whole weeks," we need to write an actual article with more actual analysis. That need means my brain went to different places in the past 24 hours, including focusing on a few lines from Chris Cotillo and Astros County.

In case you missed it over the weekend, Cotillo reported that the Astros and Jason Castro have not even begun extension talks. That's after the two sides agreed on a $2.4 million contract for 2014, avoiding arbitration.

Here's what AC had to say:

HAWT TAKE: So what? Castro has had one decent year, one good year, and is under team control for two more seasons. Why not see how 2014 goes, and reopen negotiations if it looks like 2014 is sustainable?

I, too, was this flippant about a possible extension. It's too early. He just came off his first healthy season (and he wasn't fully healthy the whole time). What am I missing? Extension? Extension? Slow down, hoss.

But, since it's the dead of winter and 60 degrees in Houston right now, it didn't end there. Research was done. Data was collected. Conclusions are forthcoming.

First up, here's my question: how many catchers who have posted season of three WAR or more got extensions? When did they receive said extensions? FanGraphs provided answers, thanks to its filtering ability. Since 2000, there have been 20 catchers who posted seasons of three or more WAR while qualifiying for a batting title.

Of those, four are retired and thus their contract information doesn't live easily on Cot's Baseball Contracts (which was an invaluable resource for this exercise). That leaves 16 catchers who we have data on. Here's the breakdown on how many signed extensions and when:

Signed extensions before FA: 12 (11 if you don't count A.J. Pierzynski, who was non-tendered by the Twins, signed by SF and then signed an extension while still in arb.)
Extension lengths
3 years - 1 (Pierzynski, which may be invalid)
4 years - 4 (Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina, Ramon Hernandez, Kurt Suzuki)
5 years - 5 (Victor Martinez, Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucry, Carlos Santana, Miguel Montero)
6 years - 1 (Brian McCann)
9 years - 1 (Buster Posey)
Arb-eligible players who have not signed extensions yet: 3 (Castro, Matt Wieters, Alex Avila)
Players who went through arbitration to FA: 2 (Russell Martin, Geovany Soto)

Of extended players, number who signed extension before arb. began: 7
Who signed in 1st year of arb: 3
Who signed in 2nd year of arb: 0
Who signed in 3rd year of arb: 1

So, of those 16 catchers, 12 signed extensions while still in arbitration. Two of the remaining four are still in arbitration, while one of those (Wieters) has apparently had talks with the Orioles about an extension. Which leaves just three players who are in Castro's situation.

Avila is a complementary player on a great team and, as such, may not get a contract while bigger fish are in the sea in Detroit. Geovany Soto had one good season, flashed some power but never got back to those heights before being traded from the Cubs to the Rangers in the middle of arbitration.

Martin didn't lose time to injuries, but he did see his production slip when he got into arbitration. Though, his situation might be invalid due to the McCourt ownership situation distorting how that team was run in his time there.

Castrocsellsbury_medium

Other than that, most every player on this list either signed an extension before he reached free agency or around his first year of arbitration. Which makes sense, because catchers who are producing at an All-Star level (four WAR or above) are a valuable commodity.

While it's hardly conclusive, it looks like this is the year to watch for an extension for Castro. If he can prove he's healthy this summer, maybe we see a Jose Altuve-type extension. I'm guessing Castro would get between four and five years on a deal, given the history at the position.

But, there's also a chance that the Astros play this out and either trade Castro this summer, next winter or any time before he hits free agency. Not having an extension in place doesn't mean a trade is inevitable. Ultimately, I agree with AC that it's not a big deal. But, looking at history, Castro's lack of an extension despite big-time production does count as unusual.

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