Minnesota Makes First Splash of Their Off-season by Signing Free Agent Catcher Jason Castro. Twins Reportedly Beat Out Two Other Teams to Sign the Ex-Astro.
The new front office of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine made their first move, beating out two other teams to win the services of Jason Castro. Terms released were 3 years, $24.5 million. Both the Atlanta Braves and the Tampa Bay Rays were in the mix to sign the former Astros catcher.
By signing Castro, the Twins express a desire to shore up the defense behind the plate, and to provide a better target and some stability for their struggling pitching staff.
Last year, Kurt Suzuki was paid $6 million for a slash line of .258 / .301 / .704, offensive numbers that were just above average for a catcher. Castro offers those kind of numbers while hitting against right-handers, but significantly drops off against lefties.
The thought process is that John Ryan Murphy will handle much of the catching duties against opposing left-handers, especially nasty ones. Murphy’s numbers are similar to Castro’s when he hits against lefties.
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If you think the Twins overpaid for strictly a platoon hitter, remember the Twins paid Suzuki $6 million to play 106 games.
Last year, the Twins played 116 games against right handed starters. Even if Castro only played versus those pitchers, he would only be getting a little over 1.5 games off per week.
But the signing of Castro, and the failure to go after Suzuki, centers not on hitting, but on defense. Both Falvey and Levine are steeped into the new numbers that front offices use to rate backstops.
And Castro rates high in a category both Twins’ catchers last year failed in: Pitch framing. Over the course of the 2016 season, Jason Castro ranked first in the American League (and third overall among qualifiers) with a +17 framed runs above average.
In that same category, both Suzuki and Juan Centeno ranked near the bottom. In throwing out runners, the Twins opted for the two catchers, in Castro and Murphy, with higher percentage rates of throwing out potential base stealers.
Last year, Castro threw out 36%, a little below Murphy’s career average. While Castro’s dipped this year, his career rate is very near the MLB average (28%). Last year, Suzuki threw out only 18.8% and Centeno an AL-worst (for players who played at least 50 games) 14.3%.
Clearly, the new brass wants a change behind the plate defensively, and both Castro and Murphy should provide that. One quirk among the best pitch framers is their high rate of passed balls due to a tendency to “quiet” their glove for as long as possible.
In that area, Castro leads the majors, averaging 10 passed balls per season over the last four years. He was also behind the plate for 40 wild pitches per year for that same time frame. It will be interesting to note Castro’s passed balls and wild pitch totals at the end of 2017.
While his offensive numbers are similar to Suzuki’s as a whole, he does provide a better chance to hit the long ball than Suzuki has lately. Castro has averaged 13.5 home runs these past four seasons, while Suzuki has averaged just 5.26 since 2013, and hasn’t hit double digit homers since 2011.
FUN FACT: The $24.5 million dollars is the most the Twins have paid for a free agent position player since retaining their own free agent, Kirby Puckett, in 1991 off-season. They gave Kirby a six year, $30 million deal back then.