Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro could be a free agent target of the Detroit Tigers. He became a free agent after the 2016 season, and the Astros declined to extend him a qualifying offer. He is a 29-year-old veteran catcher who excels defensively and hits for low average with some power. He would be a good fit for Detroit, who is in need of a backup catcher with the likely departure of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
As reported by Jeff Passan on Friday morning, Castro currently has offers from three American League teams and is in the “top tier” of free agent catching talent, along with Washington’s Wilson Ramos and Baltimore’s Matt Wieters.
Who is he?
Castro was drafted 10th overall by the Houston Astros in the 2008 MLB amateur draft. He has been with the Astros his entire professional career and hit quite well in the minors; he played in the MLB Futures Game in 2009. He made his MLB debut in June of 2010 and since then has hit .232 with 64 home runs in six seasons. He missed the entire 2011 season with a knee injury. After rehabbing in the minors at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, Castro got back to the majors and hit .257 in 87 games with a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .309. He had a breakout season in 2013, when he hit 18 home runs in 120 games, led the Astros with a .350 on-base percentage, and made the All-Star team for the first time in his career.
Castro is decent defensively and is especially talented in the way of pitch framing. According to Stats Corner, 8.3 percent of the pitches Castro caught outside of the strike zone (pitches that should have been called balls) were called strikes in 2016. Using this stat and others, StatsCorner calculated that Castro got an average of 0.92 calls per game in the Astros favor.
Why should we care?
Castro is a left-handed batter and would fit well in a Tigers lineup that is constructed of largely right-handed hitters. He is mostly a pull-hitter and would likely benefit from the relatively short 330-foot right field fence at Comerica Park. At the age of 29, Castro is a veteran catcher and has worked well with the Astros young pitchers. Other than his season-ending knee injury in 2011, Castro has proven to be durable, catching at least 100 games in each full season except 2012 (he missed part of the season rehabbing from the injury). He would be a reliable partner with James McCann should the Tigers sign him.
Why should we stay away?
Castro struggles to hit left-handed pitching. Ten of his 11 home runs in 2016 came against right-handed pitching, and he hit .149/.237/.241 against lefties. In fact, he had only five extra-base hits against lefties in the entire 2016 season.
Castro would come with the typical risks that accompany a 29-year-old catcher (he’ll be 30 in June). His recovery time would be longer should he get injured as a result of his age, and with six years of major-league experience under his belt, it’s unusual that he’s only had one major injury.
Money is also a concern for a Tigers team looking to trim payroll. Castro made $5 million in 2016 and should command a contract worth at least that much for several years. Wherever he lands, he is likely to want to stay there for a while after being with Houston for his entire professional career. Before the 2014 season, Castro turned down a four-year extension that would have bought out his last two years of arbitration and his first two years of free agency. Given that Castro will turn 30 in 2017, this is his best chance at a big payday.
Will he end up in Detroit?
There is a decent possibility that Castro will end up in Detroit. The short right-field fence is very conducive to left-handed batters that pull the ball. With his struggles against lefties, he would make a good platoon with McCann, who mashes left-handed pitching. By all reports, Castro is a good clubhouse guy and works well with young players. Depending on how much the Tigers plan to cut payroll, his salary could fit in very well and he would be an excellent pickup. The biggest uncertainty is whether Castro would be willing to accept the backup catching duties, as he has been the full-time catcher for the majority of his career.