How Will the Twins Replace Jason Castro this Offseason?
Image courtesy of © Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsThough Jason Castro wasn’t near the offensive threat that Mitch Garver has been behind the plate, he is no defensive-only catcher a la Drew Butera. In 2019, Castro posted a 103 wRC+, which ranked 15th out of the 36 catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. Factor that in with Castro’s above average pitch framing ability, and solid all-around defense behind the plate, and you have yourselves a pretty good catcher. Now, at the age of 32, Castro is entering free agency and the Twins suddenly find themselves in need of a catcher to back up Mitch Garver. Let’s take a look at some of the options the Twins have.
Perhaps the most obvious place the Twins could look to find the replacement for Jason Castro is on the free agent market. While there won’t be any big-time catchers available in free agency, that is perfectly fine with the Twins as all they need is someone who can be their number two behind Mitch Garver. Some of the names the Twins could be interested in are Robinson Chirinos, Travis d’Arnaud, Alex Avila and Jason Castro himself. Personally, Jason Castro makes the most sense to bring back among this group. The Twins will be looking to replicate the success they had at the catcher position this year, and what better way to do so than by using the same players? While this move would certainly make sense for the Twins, especially on a one- or two- year deal, it is hard to say if it would make a lot of sense for Castro. It is entirely possible that Castro is looking for an opportunity somewhere he could be the primary catching option, and who could blame him? He certainly has the ability to be the primary catcher for roughly half of the organizations in major league baseball, and if he were to return to the Twins, at best he will split time with Garver 50/50, barring an injury.
Another option the Twins could turn to in on the trade market. One team the Twins could reach out to is the Seattle Mariners, and their always-very-eager- to- make-a-trade GM Jerry Dipoto. The Mariners have two quality young catchers in Tom Murphy and Omar Narvaez. Murphy has one year remaining before he becomes arbitration eligible in 2021, while Narvaez is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter. With a few years of team control remaining for each player, the Mariners could have one of two viewpoints. Either, A, hold onto them as part of the future of the organization, or B, cash them in while they can still return good value, and continue to build up their strong farm system. If the answer is B, I think the Twins could make an excellent trade partner for them, given the sheer depth of the Twins farm system, and value that either one of these two catchers would bring to the team.
If the Twins don’t find anything they like in either free agency or on the trading block, they could always turn internally. Perhaps the most likely option, if this were the case, would be to give Willians Astudillo extended playing time as a catcher. While this would certainly be a fan favorite choice, it is still a little dicey trusting Astudillo behind the plate that often, especially with his offensive struggles mitigating his ability to make up for his poor defense.
After Astudillo, their top two catching prospects within the organization are Ryan Jeffers and Ben Rortvedt. While both are solid catching options, they each have only played partial seasons at AA with zero experience at the AAA level. Turning to one of these two to start the season would require a big jump that they might not be quite ready for. A fourth option would be Tomas Telis, who posted an impressive .330/.364/.490 slash line in 82 games for the Rochester Red Wings this season, albeit in the extreme offensive environment that was Triple-A this season. Telis does have brief MLB experience playing for the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins before he came over to the Twins organization, so he should be ready if the Twins were to call his number.
While the Twins main focus will certainly be around addressing the starting rotation, filling the hole left by Jason Castro cannot go overlooked. One thing that needs to be at the forefront of the Twins minds when making this decision is in case of an injury, is this a player we trust to step up as the primary Twins catcher in his absence? If that answer is no, they should probably look to an alternative option, to avoid a replay of the 2018 Twins catching situation.
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