Pictured, your 2014 AL MVP
My love of Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro is no secret. But in the interest of consolidating my opinion into one place, I will clearly lay out how valuable he would be to the 2014 Oakland A's right here.
This past season, Derek Norris had some of the most extreme platoon splits you will ever see. That is no secret around here. But for those who are not fully aware, Norris had a wRC+ of 177 against LHP and 33 against RHP. There are sample size issues to be had, and Norris never showed any real platoon splits in the minor leagues. Even still, the A's have shown a real willingness to pair Norris up with a left-hand hitting counterpart, whether it be George Kottaras, John Jaso, or Stephen Vogt. Norris, despite being on the active roster for all 162 games (no DL trips, paternity leave, suspensions, etc.) only started 24 of the A's 108 games against a right-handed starter.
Enter Mr. Castro, a local product from Castro Valley, and a Stanford alum. Jason Castro is the best lefty hitting catcher in baseball (though you may still be able to make a case for Brian McCann). Now that Joe Mauer and, presumably, John Jaso have been moved off catcher, only Buster Posey and Yadier Molina can come close to Castro' production against right-handed pitching. Over the past two years, Castro's wRC+ of 133 is tops among players who are still technically catchers.
Last season, Castro had a wRC+ of 137 against RHP. If you, theoretically, had a strict platoon of Norris against LHP and Castro against RHP, you would have had 553 PAs of a 150 wRC+, which would have been right in the neighborhood of David Ortiz (152) and Josh Donaldson (148). At catcher.
Even if Norris falls back a bit against LHP (which is almost inevitable), and some inevitable runoff plate appearances that Castro would have against LHP and Norris would have against RHP, it's still pretty easy to see a Castro/Norris platoon putting up a wRC+ of 130 or more.
Given the fact that teams have to carry two catchers, the position is the ideal platoon situation. And a Castro/Norris platoon would make "Oakland A's Catcher" as good as any player in baseball (except that CF in Anaheim). Don't think of it as acquiring Jason Castro. Think of it as acquiring Buster Posey.
Stop the Vogt
His walk-off single in Game 2 was fun, and he seems like a nice guy with terrible walk-up music. But Stephen Vogt, our current lefty hitting side of the catcher platoon, does not profile as a starting caliber player on a playoff caliber team. He had his moments last year, and he is a good piece to have as depth in AAA should a catcher get injured (more on that in a moment). But as a starting player, I simply do not see it.
But our farm system is bad
I know. The A's current farm system is basically Addison Russell and then a bunch of stuff. Daniel Robertson and Raul Alcantara are both intriguing prospects, but there really isn't much in the minors. Even with the presence of Max Stassi, widely believed to be loved by the Astros organization, it's hard to see the Astros parting with Castro. Though the same could have been said of Jed Lowrie last year.
Like Lowrie, Castro has a pretty spotty injury history. He missed most of the last month of the 2013 season with a knee injury that required surgery, and he missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL on the same right knee. He is not without risk, and he is under contract for just 3 more seasons.
The Astros entire 40-man roster is under team control for more than 3 seasons, with the exceptions of Castro, Dexter Fowler, and now Scott Feldman. Castro has a very real risk of suffering another major knee injury and reducing his trade value to zero. He likely will not be a part of any contending Astros team unless he signs an extension, and his heir apparent has already reached the major league level. He has immense value to a team focused on the short-term (like Oakland), and major risk to a team focused on the long-term (like Houston) because of that ticking time bomb in his knee.
Wouldn't somebody else want him?
If Jason Castro is so awesome, shouldn't there be a line of 29 GMs waiting to trade for him? Yes, the demand for Castro would be very high. But teams who entered the offseason in need of catching help seem to have found it. The Yankees signed Brian McCann, the Red Sox signed AJ Pierzynski, the Rangers re-signed Geovany Soto and decided for some reason to acquire J.P. Arencibia. The Blue Jays signed Dioner Navarro. With the possible exceptions of Atlanta and Cincinnati, I cannot see any contenders in major need of a catcher.
What would it take?
This is always the most fun part. It's impossible to predict trades. But 3 years of Castro is pretty valuable, even with all the question marks about his knee.
Kevin Goldstein, current director of pro scouting for the Astros, was a longtime writer at Baseball Prospectus. That gives us a smidge of unique insight into their possible internal opinions of some of our players. In particular, he was always higher on Chris Carter than anyone else was. And he eventually landed Carter. Goldstein was on the Dan Straily bandwagon pretty long before the rest of the prospect media had caught on, at one point in 2012 calling him one of the best pitching prospects in the game and ranking him the 50th best prospect in baseball on his mid-season 2012 list.
The Astros, for all of their farm system depth, are still relatively thin at starting pitcher. Jarred Cosart pitched somewhat effectively in the majors in 2013, despite awful peripherals. 2013 1st overall pick Mark Appel figures to be in the majors in 2014. And Brett Oberholtzer looks to be a promising mid-rotation arm. Straily, under control for 5 more seasons, is as durable as they come and is a fairly reliable mid-rotation arm. And call me crazy, but a 2014 rotation of Appel/Cosart/Straily/Oberholtzer/Feldman looks pretty intriguing for Houston.
In a market where Phil Hughes is getting 3/24, 5 cost-controlled years of Dan Straily looks pretty valuable. Augmenting Straily with Robertson and Alcantara would be a good move for Houston. But you can disagree (and I know some will).
So, are you sold?
This isn't just my inner "A's Fan" speaking when I say that the Astros should move Castro now. It is the best business decision they can make. They have to be at least a little concerned about his knee flaring up and turning him into a zero, they have to understand that 3 years of control is worth more than 2.5 years of control at the deadline, or 2 in the 2014 offseason, and they have to understand that by the time they are ready to be competitive again, he is likely to be headed out the door.
Jason Castro is a fantastic ballplayer who would be an all-star for any team in baseball. But, paired with Derek Norris, he would turn our catcher spot into the 2014 American League MVP*. No, the A's wouldn't have a farm system left, but yes, the A's would be a 100-win team next season.