Houston Astros: Jason Castro’s Backup a Non-Emergency

Feb 19, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro (15) talks with manager A.J. Hinch during the workout at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2016; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro (15) talks with manager A.J. Hinch during the workout at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Astros backup catcher situation is still one of the most intriguing storylines lately.

With Max Stassi‘s hand injury this Spring, the Houston Astros are presented with a question mark for Jason Castro‘s backup. One option they have is to roll with an in-house solution, most likely Tyler Heineman or Roberto Pena. They could make a trade for a player like Jonathan Lucroy, or they could wait for roster cuts and pick someone up on waivers, like Bryan Holaday from the Detroit Tigers or Tim Federowicz from the Chicago Cubs.

Assessing the situation, the Astros are nowhere near emergency mode, unless Castro would get hurt. If Castro did sustain a substantial injury, Houston would need to make a move even if Stassi was healthy. A backup catcher’s main duties are to give the starting catcher a rest every few days, and while doing that, provide solid defense and throw out base runners, any offensive output is simply icing on the cake.

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It is this writers’ opinion that the Astros need not make a trade for a Lucroy or another catcher under any kind of significant contract. The money is simply not worth it. Per Spotrac, Lucroy is currently due $4.35 million this year and $5.25 million the next. Castro is scheduled to earn $5 million this year, and the only way Houston should spend $10 million on catching is if the team has one premier catcher.

By throwing out the idea to trade for an under-contract veteran, Houston could either make a trade for a less experienced catcher or make a waiver claim, as teams will be making cuts soon. Some possible targets include the Federowicz as mentioned earlier and Holaday, although Detroit has been rumored to have an interest in keeping him, giving them three catchers on their 25 man roster.  Other names are J.P. Arencibia (PHI), A.J. Jimenez (TOR), Austin Romine (NYY), and whoever gets cut by the Rangers three-headed bunch of Chris Gimenez, Michael McKenry, and Bobby Wilson.

Of these names Holaday provides the best all-around solution, but if retained by Detroit, could come at more of a cost than the Astros are willing to pay, or need to for that matter. Federowicz is coming off of a knee injury, and over his MLB career he has a sub .200 batting average, but has thrown out 37% of base runners. Arencibia is intriguing as he has definitely provided power with the bat, but severely struggled to hit for any average. Again, for the backup catcher, any production with the bat is a plus, but not necessarily why a player should be signed. All of these players are out of options, so they will either need to be placed on the 25-man roster of their respective clubs, put on waivers, or traded.

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If Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch decide to solve matters internally, Heineman and Pena will be their two best options.  Neither has logged any MLB time, and Heineman was in AAA last year, and Pena has not gotten above AA yet. That being said, I think Heineman would be the logical choice here, and I don’t think it would be a bad one. Stassi is out until early-mid May, so you are looking at a backup catcher starting maybe five games in April, and possibly a few more in May depending on Stassi’s recovery.

The Astros landing Holaday, without giving up too much, would be ideal. The former TCU Horned Frog has logged 108 games in the big leagues and has compiled a .251 batting average, along with throwing out 27% of baserunners, which albeit a smaller sample but identical to Jason Castro’s career caught-stealing average. J.P. Arencibia could also be a nice addition if he is available, as he could definitely take advantage of the Crawford Boxes, providing he make contact. Federowicz, if healthy, provides a good defensive option.

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If the Astros cannot land one of those three, or maybe even just Holaday, they should turn to Heineman. Our recent minor league pipeline has produced well in the majors, minus a couple of instances, and if Stassi can return in May as expected, the risk is relatively small to find out where one of your young prospects is at on the major league level.

**Statistics and contract information provided by Baseball Reference & Spotrac.com**