After trading for Erik Kratz, the Astros still need a catcher upgrade.
The Houston Astros appear to be better than the 2015 playoff group. Even so, a catcher upgrade would enhance their shot at a World Series title in 2016, and they have the means to acquire such an impact player. A recent move bringing a new backup to the team helps to stabilize the situation, but does not address the need for a more skilled starting catcher.
Jason Castro has struggled to maintain respectable batting numbers in his three seasons as the Astros starting catcher (504 games, .237, 51 HR, 180 RBI, 170 BB, and a staggering 498 strikeouts – via Baseball-Reference.com). At age 28, he has time to improve, however, with the Astros as serious World Series contenders right now, they would be better served by digging into the deep farm system and offering a package of prospects in order to acquire a more suitable catcher.
Castro’s starting spot has yet to be challenged, although Houston has several young catchers that may soon be in a position to take the number one job. Spring Training 2016 saw Max Stassi win out over several others for the backup job. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury on March 10. Four days later Stassi had surgery to remove part of the broken hamate bone in his left hand, and is expected to miss six weeks.
It was obvious that Evan Gattis would not be considered for Astros catching duties. With Stassi out until around mid-May, that left Tyler Heineman, Alfredo Gonzalez, and Roberto Pena to battle for the second catching spot. While Stassi has minimal big league experience (21 Astros games), the other three have zero between them.
Gonzalez was optioned on March 17 to Double-A Corpus Christi, and Heineman was optioned on March 28 to Triple-A Fresno, leaving Pena in the backup role. It was a surprise move considering that Pena, 23, has not yet played above Double-A, while Heineman, 24, spent most of the 2015 season in Triple-A (via MiLB.com). That lead to the March 28 deal in which the Astros acquired Erik Kratz from San Diego for pitcher Dan Straily. Kratz is 35 years old with only 192 Major League games over parts of six seasons. Kratz may prove to be a good choice as backup to Castro, however, what the Astros need is a major revamping of the catching position. They need to trade for a top-notch starting catcher.
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The Astros have several prospects who could be offered in such a trade. With infielder Alex Bregman (Astros #1 prospect) among the favorites to make the Astros perhaps as early as 2017, and #12 prospect J.D. Davis (3rd base) also on the horizon, that could leave players such as Colin Moran, Matt Duffy, Nolan Fontana, and Tony Kemp out of the loop. Other teams will likely expect pitchers to be included in a trade offer for a number one catcher, and the Astros have a number of low-level minor league hurlers they could stand to part with.
The Astros need to put together a three or four player package including Moran, Kemp, or Fontana, Heineman or Gonzalez, and a low-level pitcher or two in an offer for a catcher. Potential trade targets include Arizona’s Welington Castillo, Cleveland’s Yan Gomes, Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cervelli, Washington’s Wilson Ramos, Toronto’s Russell Martin, Oakland’s Stephen Vogt, or San Diego’s Derek Norris (perhaps plus another player). Any of those catchers would be an upgrade and would become Houston’s number one behind the plate.
The depth of the Houston farm system allows GM Jeff Luhnow the flexibility to make a serious offer for a quality catcher without giving up the future. Such a move could be exactly what the Astros need to propel this team to the next level.
**Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference**