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Milwaukee Brewers free agent targets: Jason Castro

He’s a left-handed hitter who could platoon with Manny Pina.

Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Brewers are not going to be able to replace Yasmani Grandal.

The top catcher in baseball was tremendously valuable on both sides of the ball last season, bashing 28 home runs and posting a 121 wRC+ on his way to his fifth straight season of 4+ fWAR. But he signed a long-term deal with the White Sox, and none of the other free agent backstops bring to the table the skillset that Grandal does.

So, the Brewers will likely have to settle for finding someone to split time with Manny Pina behind the plate in 2020. The next-best available catcher on the market was generally considered to be Travis d’Arnaud, but he landed with the Braves on a two-year deal over the weekend. However his right-handed bat might not have been as strong a fit in Milwaukee as another player who dons the tools of ignorance and is still waiting on the open market.

Jason Castro is someone that Brewers President David Stearns ought to be quite familiar with, as the two spent several years working together with the Houston Astros. Castro’s time in Houston actually predates Stearns, as he was that franchise’s first round pick (#10 overall) back in 2008. He rose quickly through the minors, making his MLB debut in 2010 on the way to spending more than half the decade as Houston’s primary catcher. He left the organization following 2016, inking a three-year deal with the Twins that took him through the conclusion of this past season.

Castro can generally be described as a solid contributor throughout his career. He has only posted two seasons above the league’s midpoint in terms of wRC+, but compared to his fellow catchers, he has been slightly above-average with the bat. He is a career .231/.313/.390 hitter, which comes out to a 93 wRC+. The average MLB backstop has posted a wRC+ between 84 and 89 over the past five seasons. Castro also has a bit of pop, with 86 home runs in 825 games and 3,022 plate appearances, including six seasons with double-digit dingers.

This past season with the Twins, Castro was limited to 79 games due in part to a sore elbow (though he never went on the IL) as well as the breakout enjoyed by teammate Mitch Garver. Still, in 275 plate appearances, Castro mashed 13 long balls while hitting .232/.332/.435. That added up to a 103 wRC+, his best total since a 129 wRC+ with the ‘Stros in 2013. Castro’s line-drive approach at the plate has helped him maintain a solid .302 BABIP throughout his career; that number was .307 this past season, despite ranking in only the 35th percentile of the league according to Statcast’s Sprint Speed metric.

Getting hits on the balls that he puts in play is important for Castro, because he isn’t exactly someone who makes the opposing defense work all that often. He has punched out in 27.9% of his career plate appearances, including a 32.0% clip this past season. He has swung-and-missed at a 12.1% rate as a big leaguer and his 15.6% swinging-strike rate last season represented a new career-worst. Those issues are obviously a major part of his consistently low batting averages, but he helps make up for that by drawing a good amount of free passes. Jason has earned a base on balls 10% of the time during his decade in the big leagues, including a 12% rate last season with Minnesota. At least when he does make contact, he hits the ball with authority; Castro posted a 51.7% hard contact rate in 2019, which was 5th-best among all big league hitters with at least 250 plate appearances. That landed him right in between Joey Gallo and Yordan Alvarez, and ranked ahead of the likes of Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger.

As a left-handed hitter, Castro does the vast majority of his damage against right-handed pitchers. He batted .254/.354/.497 for a 123 wRC+ when holding the platoon advantage last year, including every one of his home runs. For his career, he owns a 106 wRC+ against righties versus an ugly 53 wRC+ against southpaw pitchers. Fortunately, that would make for a rather natural pairing with Milwaukee’s right-handed hitting Manny Pina, who annihilated lefties to the tune of a 146 wRC+ in 2019.

Jason has generally been a solid defender behind the plate during his career, though some metrics were down on his work last season. He was viewed negatively by Defensive Runs Saved for the first time since 2013, with his -7 total ranking 11th-worst among the 68 catchers who caught at least 200 innings in 2019. He also only threw out 19% of would-be base thieves. But for five seasons between 2014-2018, Castro accrued a total of +29 DRS while catching 27.2% of attempted base stealers. He’s also rated out as a positive pitch framer in each year since 2014 by both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus, including this past season. Fangraphs rated his strike-stealing ability at +3.2 runs, while BP liked him even better — +6.1 framing runs.

One bugaboo worth paying attention to with Casto has been a proclivity for knee ailments during his career. He missed all of 2011 with a torn right ACL suffered in Spring Training, spent a month of the shelf in 2012 with a right meniscus injury, had surgery to remove a cyst from right knee that cost him three weeks in 2013, and then seriously tore his right meniscus in 2018 and was limited to only 19 games. As mentioned above, he also dealt with a sore throwing elbow during the early part of the 2019 season.

d’Arnaud’s two-year, $16 mil pact with Atlanta should set the ceiling for what Casto can expect to get on the open market this winter. The 32 year old (33 next June) will most likely be looking at a one or two-year deal this winter and he figures to earn less per year than the $8 mil that Minnesota paid him last season. MLB Trade Rumors predicts him to land a two-year, $10 mil contract, which is eminently affordable for every MLB franchise but could be especially attractive to Milwaukee, who has several other holes to fill around the diamond during the offseason.

Jason Castro is a solid hitter for his position who also rates as an above-average pitch framer. We know left-handed hitters generally experience a boost in production by coming to Miller Park, and he’d be able to slide right into a L/R timeshare with Milwaukee’s current #1 backstop, Manny Pina. Hopefully Slingin’ Stearns hasn’t lost Castro’s contact information since their time together with the Astros, because there might not be a better candidate remaining to help Milwaukee out behind the plate in 2020.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus