Brian McCann was traded to the Astros on Thursday, which means he’s not returning to the Atlanta Braves anytime soon. This should come as no surprise. Their interest in McCann was always muted. If the Yankees wanted to pay half his salary and accept only second-tier prospects in return, the Braves might have taken him. That, however, was as far as they were willing to go.
Which also means the Braves are still without an everyday catcher. They like what Tyler Flowers gave them last season, but are under no illusion that he’s anything more than a good backup. They’d like to find somebody a bit better. This remains the hole in their remade organization: The Braves drafted Lucas Herbert in Round 2 last year; he just hit .185 at Class A Rome.
The free agent Wilson Ramos is coming off a career year, so his asking price is at an all-time high; he’s also coming off ACL surgery, which makes him a risk. Matt Wieters, also a free agent, is 31 and has never hit the way the Orioles figured when they made him the No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft. He made $15.8 million last season. He’s not apt to accept a major pay cut. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Wieters will sign for $39 million over three seasons. He’s not worth that.
The guess here — just a guess, mind you — is that the Braves will seek a cheaper option. That might lead them to Jason Castro, who’s 29 and who was the 10th pick of the 2008 draft. Not so long ago, he was seen as part of the Astros’ prized young core. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa and George Springer have panned out. Castro made the All-Star team in 2013 but has done little since, which is why Houston let him walk and dealt for McCann.
Castro isn’t much of a hitter. His OPS+ the past three seasons was 84, 79 and 88. (League average is 100.) His career batting average is .231. He career strikeout-to-walk ratio is 2.89. By way of contrast, that noted flailer Justin Upton’s is 2.44, and at least Upton will hit the more-than-occasional home run. Castro has 36 homers over the past three seasons.
Castro, who bats left-hander, is disproportionately lousy against lefties. His career BA/OBP/SLG against portsiders — sorry, but I just love typing “portsiders” — is .190/.249/.287.
Those are reasons not to sign Castro. Here are the counterpoints: He’d fit nicely into a platoon with Flowers, who hits right-handed, and — this above all — he’s a good defender. According to StatCorner, Castro ranked fifth among catchers in pitch-framing last season. If you’re looking to upgrade your team’s pitching performance, hiring a skilled pitch-framer is one way to do it. (A.J. Pierzynski is terrible at framing; Wieters isn’t much better.)
Another reason to pursue Castro: He’ll come cheaper than Ramos/Wieters. MLB Trade Rumors thinks he could be had for two years at $15 million overall. That mightn’t fill the Braves’ long-term need, but it would, at least in the here and now, address the incongruity of having no real catcher to handle a pitching staff comprised of young arms plus a couple of very old ones.
I know the Braves have had their eye on Castro for a while. (And when I say a while, I mean several months.) He’s not Johnny Bench. He’s not even McCann in his prime. But he’d be an affordable defensive upgrade.
Further reading: Russ Nixon, 1935-2016 — he managed the Braves at the wrong time.