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Astros Free Agent Target: Jason Castro

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Time for a reunion with an old friend?

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It’s now Christmas but the Astros won’t find what they were wishing for under an Orbit-theme tree. There won’t be a miraculous last-minute arrival from Santa — a reunion with George Springer — or a dramatic change of heart that concludes in a festive song for everyone.

Baseball is still a business, no matter the time of year. During an offseason that is moving at a slower pace than me following a third helping from the holiday smorgasbord, the fact that there is little to report on transactions is of little surprise. It’s the cold reality of the situation.

For the Astros, they still need to acquire a pair of major league outfielders, a reliever or two, perhaps a starting pitcher, and a new backup catcher. It’s a long list and, to be honest, a goal that will require some time to fulfill. Based on the latest rumors though, it does appear as if general manager James Click is trying to whittle that list down soon.

Hello, old friend. How have you been these last few years, Jason Castro? I see you did some moving around, but, to be fair, who doesn’t in their own life.

Post-Astros Career (2017-20)

Season Team PA BB% K% wRC+ WAR
Season Team PA BB% K% wRC+ WAR
2017 MIN 407 11.1% 26.5% 94 2.1
2018 MIN 74 12.2% 35.1% 40 0
2019 MIN 275 12.0% 32.0% 103 1.6
2020 LAA/SD 92 13.0% 35.9% 86 0.3

From what I can gather online, there is a rather wide divide in opinion about the possibility of Castro coming back to the Astros. On one hand, the former first-round pick is a reminder of an agonizing past, in which Houston progressed from a drastic rebuild to an era of competitiveness. To some it may feel like a step backward to reunite with a catcher connected to that drastic rebuild. I don’t share that sentiment. Others may feel like acquiring a backup catcher isn’t even necessary with Garrett Stubbs still on the roster. That’s an argument I’m willing to listen to, although I believe Castro actually has a fair bit of upside for a veteran catcher.

In any case the Astros ought to prioritize bridging the production gap that was clearly apparent in 2020 between primary catcher Martin Maldonado and his backups in Dustin Garneau and Stubbs. Castro fits that need as the 33-year old is still held in high regard for his defensive abilities, specifically for his framing abilities as noted mhatter in his article last offseason about free-agent catchers. I’d rather have two capable catchers on the staff rather than rely too heavily on just one. Unfortunately, the latter situation is essentially what the Astros did this year. It was telling how management viewed the situation when Garneau and Stubbs only had a combined 56 plate appearances compared to 165 for Maldonado in sixty games. In a shortened season as we saw in 2020, that kind of workload is plausible, but not across something resembling a full season.

Plus, there might be some offensive upside to Castro’s profile as a hitter. Based on his Statcast numbers in 2019, the former Astro showed off an improved barrel rate (17.2 percent), exit velocity (91.8 MPH), and xwOBA (.368). Compared to his last healthy season in 2017, those figures were 6.8 percent, 87.2 MPH, and .328, respectively. Since the beginning of the 2019 season, Castro ranks first in average exit velocity (92 MPH) for all major league catchers with at least 50 batted ball results. Although the 2020 season was shortened, it was encouraging to see Castro’s batted ball improvement continued to show the improvements that he implemented the year before. Don’t forget that Castro, who is a left-handed hitter, has a career 105 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers, so he seems like a logical platoon partner next to the right-handed Maldonado.

If the Astros can address one position of need sooner rather than later, I am all for it. With $37 million to spare under the tax threshold for 2021, there is plenty of room to sign Castro to a short-term contract worth a few million per season. There is little risk while the club improves and gives itself a chance to determine its long-term plans for the position in the near future. So, yes, put me in the camp to bring Castro back as a platoon partner to not only keep Maldonado fresh, but also add another dynamic to the roster that was lacking in 2020.