Castro believes Twins can make quick turnaround
MINNEAPOLIS -- After seeing the Houston Astros go from averaging 108 losses for three straight seasons to the postseason in 2015, Jason Castro believes a quick turnaround is possible at his new workplace as well.
MINNEAPOLIS - After seeing the Houston Astros go from averaging 108 losses for three straight seasons to the postseason in 2015, Jason Castro believes a quick turnaround is possible at his new workplace as well.
"I think having gone through that, it gives me a little bit of a unique perspective," the Twins' new catcher said Wednesday on a media teleconference. "I see (the Twins) as being definitely ahead of where the Astros were a few years back when we were in the middle of the rebuild. I'm definitely excited about the group we have here and the possibilities."
The 29-year-old Castro, who missed the 2011 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, passed a physical exam Wednesday, nine days after agreeing to a three-year, $24.5 million contract. The first-time free agent received strong early interest from a number of teams, including the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays.
In replacing Kurt Suzuki, the Twins' primary catcher the past three seasons, Castro will earn $8.5 million in 2017, followed by salaries of $8 million apiece in 2018 and 2019.
Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey cited Castro's leadership and two-way abilities, both at the plate and behind it, in the decision to prioritize him "from Day 1" of the free agent period. The Twins are coming off a 103-loss season, the worst in 56 years of the Twins franchise.
"His impact on both sides of the game, his fit for our culture, made for a perfect marriage of all those elements," Falvey said. "This is a great step in the right direction."
Castro shared American League catching duties at the 2013 All-Star Game with Twins star Joe Mauer, whom he met "pretty briefly." In addition to conversations with Falvey and Twins general manager Thad Levine, Castro also spoke by phone with Twins manager Paul Molitor before making his decision.
Castro credited Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a fellow Stanford product, with helping him improve defensively across the board. Asked about his pitch-framing abilities, which last season ranked in the top three of all big-league catchers, Castro said his improvement came by design.
"It's something that over the last couple years I've tried to refine as much as possible," he said. "I don't know if 'enlightenment' is the right word, but there was definitely a focus on this new topic of pitch framing. I tried to get a better understanding of what works, what doesn't."
What does pitch framing mean to Castro?
"The goal at the end of the day is to try to help your pitcher keep as many strikes as possible," he said, "and to not do anything to take away from presenting pitches that are in the strike zone to the umpires that would lead them to believe that any given pitch is not a strike. The goal is to just be almost as unrecognized as possible behind the plate to allow the pitcher's work to speak for itself."
In 2015, with Castro as his primary catcher, left-hander Dallas Keuchel become just the third Astros pitcher to win the Cy Young Award, joining Roger Clemens (2004) and Mike Scott (1986).
The total guarantee to Castro, who had spent his entire professional career with the Astros, represents the largest package the Twins have ever given to a free agent position player from outside the organization. The previous record belonged to veteran outfielder Josh Willingham, who signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Twins prior to the 2012 season.
In terms of total investment, South Korean slugger Byung Ho Park cost the Twins slightly more than Castro last offseason. Including a $12.75 million posting fee to the Nexen Heroes, Park's club in the Korea Baseball Organization, his four-year, $12 million deal pushed the total outlay to $24.75 million.
With Castro in the fold, the Twins have seven players under contract for next season at a combined $73.45 million. They also have a full 40-man roster in advance of the Dec. 8 Rule 5 draft, in which they hold the top pick, so a bit of roster maintenance is almost surely forthcoming.
Castro will wear No. 21. That jersey belonged in recent years to Twins players such as Darin Mastroianni, Shane Robinson, Samuel Deduno, Jason Marquis, Delmon Young and Matt Garza.