The Houston Astros are reportedly in serious talks with free-agent catcher Jason Castro. Here’s why a reunion would make sense.
On Wednesday, former Houston Astros backup catcher Dustin Garneau signed with the Detroit Tigers, creating a need for additional catching depth. The elite catchers on the market have been James McCann and JT Realmuto, and as McCann seemed the only realistic option of the two, but he signed with the New York Mets. Realmuto is still on the market, but he is looking for a big contract worth more than Yasmani Grandal’s four-year, $72 million deal.
The Astros could easily bring Realmuto in for one year, but extension space and the contracts of Michael Brantley and other outfielders brought in restricts them from spending on an elite two-way catcher. The Astros have been lacking offensively in the catching position since Brian McCann left after 2018, but there is a cheap backup on the market that adds a little more offensive reliability: Jason Castro. Castro’s has been largely targeted by the Astros, and a recent report suggested the two sides are in serious talks.
Astros fans are mixed with their thoughts on Castro, but 2020 showed that there was no depth help for Martin Maldonado. Garneau struggled on both sides of the game, and not a lot was placed on Garrett Stubbs. Both backup catchers lacked a big bat and baserunners loved to run on them. The best quality/quantity catcher left on the market would have to be the former Astro, and he won’t cost as much as the elite catchers that were on the market plus the Astros will not have to deal away players or forgo offers to big targets.
Castro made a big move from the Los Angeles Angels to the San Diego Padres in 2020 and wasn’t the first-string catcher for either team. Castro seems to be moving away from his everyday role as a starting catcher and is highly targeted by contenders as a backup. For Maldonado, he was worn out in 2020, and the Astros need a cheap, reliable backup.
Castro would have to prove himself come spring training as he hasn’t played in over 100 games since 2017. Injuries have plagued the former Astros All-Star, but he comes with a heavier bat than the one behind Maldonado. The 2020 season wasn’t long enough to evaluate the bat of Castro as he hit for .188/.293/.375 in 27 games and will slash closer to league average with more at bats. In his last somewhat healthy season in 2019, Castro swung for .232/.332/.435, which is an OPS over the league average of .750. He also started his move to a backup role from there, but his defense is a little bit of a downgrade compared to Maldonado. His stolen base percentage is a little down, but his blocking skills are still top notch. In 2017, he only allowed five pass balls, while in 2018, Maldonado allowed six in about the same number of games. Castro is a few years removed from a good defensive year, but in small sample size seasons, he has shown glimpses of his old self.
This shouldn’t be a huge issue, mainly because Maldonado will take most of the reps behind the plate. The Astros are in need of a backup catcher, and the solution is not in the minors or in a large market player. While Castro doesn’t fit the perfect backup to many people, he is the best available option financially and offers a sufficient amount of defense to a very average bat when healthy. Castro’s numbers exceed the ability of last year’s backups in Garneau and Stubbs, and he is healthy which was an issue for the 2020 Astros.