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Signed C-L Jason Castro a three-year, $24.5 million contract. [11/22]
Minnesota's front office regime change was all about bringing the Twins into the modern era of baseball decision-making and the first signing of the Derek Falvey/Thad Levine era is a perfect example of just how much things have changed compared to Terry Ryan's two decades at the helm.
Jason Castro is a poor-hitting catcher–low average, OK walk rate, decent power–with mediocre caught-stealing totals, but he's emerged as one of the best in baseball at framing pitches. He's very much a new-school target–a player whose perceived value is tied almost entirely to whether you're aware of and buy into a relatively new measure of defense. He's a backup-caliber catcher if you're a not believer and a good starting catcher–worth about, say, $24.5 million for three years–if you're a believer. Falvey and Levine are believers, and now so are the Twins.
Minnesota's starting catcher for the past three seasons, Kurt Suzuki, is also a weak-hitting catcher with much worse caught-stealing totals, but he had a sterling defensive reputation based on praise from pitchers and coaches. He joined the Twins on a one-year deal, quickly signed a two-year extension, and earned a total of $15 million for three seasons. Suzuki's overall defensive numbers, and particularly his pitch framing, have consistently been among the worst in baseball for his entire career. Pitch-framing metrics revealed his supposed strength to be a huge weakness, leaving him as a sub-replacement-level player.
Based on BP's pitch-framing numbers, Suzuki was 35.4 runs below average from 2014-2016. During that same three-year span, Castro was 39.5 runs above average. Their offense during that time was similarly poor–Suzuki posted a .680 OPS, compared to .660 from Castro–but they're at opposite ends of the pitch-framing spectrum and, Twins fans can hope, the switch at catcher shows that the new front office is just as different from the old one. On the surface replacing Suzuki with Castro is just musical catchers, but the gap in their skill sets says a lot about the front offices that would target them.
Castro is hardly a star, but he's a good, solid starting catcher whose value comes from a skill that old-school decision-makers may not notice or trust. And by replacing Suzuki behind the plate the Twins have made about as big an upgrade in pitch framing and strike stealing as possible, providing much-needed, inexpensive help to a pitching staff that's been a mess for years. Castro will bat near the bottom of the lineup and perhaps platoon with John Ryan Murphy or another right-handed hitter–he hit .221/.305/.398 off righties from 2014-2016, compared to .197/.252/.291 off lefties–and the Twins will count on him to subtly tip the scales in their pitchers' favor one borderline strike at a time.