Just when you think there are no more moves for the Houston Astros to make, they find a way to prove you wrong.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, catcher Jason Castro could be a prime trade candidate as a first-time arbitration-eligible player and the fact that the Astros have another young catcher in the big leagues they are high on in Max Stassi.
Rival teams have inquired on Castro, according to major league sources. If the Astros cannot sign him to an extension, he could become the team's best trade chip. The 'Stros also could move him to first base.
Unless you paid close attention to the Astros last year, which would be a new kind of torture I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, Castro's performance went largely unnoticed in national circles. He hit .276/.350/.485 with 54 extra-base hits in 120 games last season. His 4.3 Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement trailed only Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer and Buster Posey in 2013.
At just 26 years old, Castro still has some upside left. He may not be able to duplicate that 2013 performance again, which was aided largely by a career-high .351 batting average on balls in play, but he's also not going to cost much and won't hit free agency until after 2016.
If the Astros do decide to move Castro, here are a list of suitors and potential trade packages that could be put together to make it happen.
Trade proposal: Astros trade C Jason Castro to Blue Jays for 3B Mitch Nay and LHP Griffin Murphy
It was just over one year ago when the Toronto Blue Jays appeared to have their future at catcher set. J.P. Arencibia was doing a decent job holding down the fort until star prospect Travis d'Arnaud would arrive in 2014.
D'Arnaud would have arrived much sooner than that if he could ever stay healthy, but the Blue Jays opted to enter win-now mode by dealing their star catching prospect, as well as right-handed pitcher Noah Syndergaard, in a seven-player deal with the Mets that brought R.A. Dickey to Toronto.
As bold as that move was by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, it left the team thin at catcher. Arencibia was non-tendered by the Jays and signed with Texas. The Jays signed Dioner Navarro, who is an excellent platoon catcher but hasn't played more than 89 games in a season since 2009.
Castro would give the Blue Jays a legitimate everyday catcher, or at least a left-handed platoon mate to pair with Navarro. (Castro hits left-handed, while Navarro is a switch hitter. Navarro had an 1.123 OPS as a right-handed hitter in 2013.)
In return, the Astros would acquire one high-risk, high-upside talent in Mitch Nay and a solid pitching prospect in Griffin Murphy.
Nay was drafted in 2012 and spent all last season in the Appalachian League, hitting .300/.364/.426 in 64 games. His bat looks like that of an everyday corner infielder with poise in the box, solid approach and above-average power potential.
Health and defense are going to be question marks, which is why Nay won't feature highly on a lot of Toronto prospect lists. He's not athletic, despite having a solid 6'3", 195-pound frame, and lacks range at third base. It's not a given that he stays there, which puts more pressure on the bat to play.
Left-handed pitcher Griffin Murphy is an insurance policy in the deal, though that doesn't mean he's without potential. He's a 22-year-old reliever with an above-average fastball and potentially average breaking ball.
Lacking a third pitch, Murphy likely has no chance to start, but a 6'3", 200-pound left-handed pitcher with a nice delivery and big league quality fastball is going to get a lot of chances.
Joe Mauer's days as an everyday catcher are over, but should the Twins keep him back there at all?
Trade proposal: Astros trade C Jason Castro to Twins for OF Max Kepler
It's been a busy offseason already for Minnesota Twins catchers. Ryan Doumit was traded to Atlanta for left-handed pitcher Sean Gilmartin. Kurt Suzuki was signed at the end of December while Joe Mauer's slow transition off the position continues.
So how does Jason Castro fit into the mix?
I'm so glad you asked. He's got more offensive potential than Suzuki, who has only played in 169 games the last two years.
Castro also has the benefit of being under team control for the next three years, which fits nicely with Minnesota's rebuilding plan. He won't cost them a lot of money and, assuming the prospect machine keeps spinning normally, players like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Eddie Rosario will be ready to have breakout seasons in 2016.
The Twins are stacked with prospects right now. It's the best farm system in the game, with only Boston coming close to matching their depth, but catching is the one weak area. Stuart Turner is their best catching prospect, but he projects more as a backup than everyday player.
Joe Mauer has only played 201 games behind the plate since 2011, a total that doesn't figure to increase much as the former AL MVP gets older.
Josmil Pinto is going to get a lot of reps in the big leagues next season after a brief tryout at the end of 2013. He's got good offensive skills, but is a crude defender who doesn't strike me as a long-term catcher.
Adding Castro to Minnesota's projected 2015-16 lineup would make this franchise even more lethal—not to mention his solid defensive attributes and ability to work with young, inexperienced pitching like he has in Houston.
The Astros would make out well in the deal, acquiring outfielder Max Kepler. He's always been a personal favorite of mine, though it's easy to forget about him in a system as deep as Minnesota's.
The German-born Kepler is still in the embryonic stages of his career, despite playing in the minors for the last four years. At 20 years old, Kepler finally got his first taste of a full-season league by playing 61 games in Low-A last year.
He's got such a great feel for hitting, despite his young age, that I have no problem putting a plus projection on the hit and above-average power projection. He's an athletic 6'4" with plenty of room to fill out his 180-pound frame.
Just an average runner already, Kepler will not be able to stay in center field for long. But he's got more than enough arm strength to stick in right field.
Trade proposal: Astros trade C Jason Castro to Nationals for LHP Matt Purke
How do you not love what the Washington Nationals have done this offseason?
They added the resurgent Nate McLouth to their outfield mix and got Doug Fister away from Detroit at such a bargain-basement price that police are still trying to find Washington general manager Mike Rizzo for questioning in a robbery.
Catching is still a soft spot for the Nationals, which makes Castro seem like an ideal fit for what this franchise is trying to build.
Wilson Ramos is the incumbent starter and has posted terrific offensive numbers when healthy, but it's been three years since he played in more than 78 games. He's posted above-average OPS-plus totals every season since 2011.
I wouldn't blame Rizzo if he wanted to give Ramos, 26, another shot to be the everyday starter, but it also doesn't hurt to plan ahead.
Castro is the ultimate insurance policy, someone who the Nationals could install as a starter and shop Ramos to fill another hole they might have.
Matt Purke is one of the most famous third-round picks in draft history. He was thought to be a top pick coming out of TCU in 2011, but shoulder issues, including a 2012 surgery, and dip in velocity caused the lefty to fall off the map.
I caught Purke during the Arizona Fall League in October and came away cautiously optimistic about his future. The fastball velocity was consistently 92-93 with good control and a solid, average slider. He threw a couple of changeups, but clearly lacked feel for the pitch.
The Astros can afford to take a chance on a pitcher like Purke. They have a deep farm system with solid pitching throughout, most of it at upper levels where Purke would fit right in.
Given Purke's velocity spike, I'm curious how the Nationals view him now. He could debut in Washington this season as a two-pitch reliever, though I'd be shocked if the Nationals didn't continue to develop him as a starter.
Trade proposal: Astros trade C Jason Castro to Dodgers for RHP Jose Dominguez and OF James Baldwin
It's amazing to look at all the money the Dodgers have spent in the last 18 months, yet the best they can do for catching is A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz and Drew Butera.
Catcher is the hardest position to fill, so it's not like the Dodgers can just go out and get a Yadier Molina or Buster Posey off the scrap heap.
Still, one reason the Dodgers offense was so inconsistent last year was due to lack of production from the bottom half of the order. Their catchers, in particular, hit just .236/.306/.367 in 2013. Ellis is a strong defender, but giving away at-bats isn't going to work for a playoff team.
Jason Castro's worst OPS since 2012 was .735. He's younger than Ellis and Butera, with more talent than Federowicz. The upgrade Castro gives the Dodgers offense will be worth more than what little defense they would sacrifice.
In return, the Astros get two of the most exciting, albeit flawed, prospects in the Dodgers' system. Jose Dominguez dazzled with his elite fastball in a brief MLB tryout at the end of 2013, averaging 98.5 mph with the heater in 8.1 innings.
Dominguez has one of the best arms in the minors and will routinely touch triple digits with his fastball. It can be hit, and lack of command hurts the projection, which is why the 23-year-old likely won't end up as a closer but has the stuff to pitch in the back half of a bullpen.
James Baldwin is an all-tools, no-performance prospect. He's an incredible athlete with plus speed and above-average raw power but doesn't play in games because an unrefined approach and long swing lead to high strikeout totals.
No team loves to take failed prospects who were once highly regarded than the Astros. At 22, Baldwin may not be in the Dodgers' doghouse yet, but he'll have to start showing more in-game tools to stay on the radar.
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