One name not originally on my list of free agent catchers this winter was the Mets' Ramon Castro. I didn't view him as a potential starter. But with nine homers in 124 ABs for the Mets this year, Castro could move to the front of a weak class of catchers. Assuming Jorge Posada and Ivan Rodriguez never hit the open market, that leaves Castro, Michael Barrett, Paul Lo Duca, and Jason Kendall. Let's take a closer look at Castro.
Castro was picked 17th overall by the Astros in the 1994 draft. A couple of other backstops went a few picks before him - Jason Varitek and Paul Konerko. Castro was a 22 year-old with a .759 OPS at Double A back in 1998 when the Astros decided to trade him to Florida for reliever Jay Powell. Powell was very solid for Houston, a team that won the NL Central easily that year.
Castro spent most of '99 in Triple A, posting a .757 OPS with decent power. Florida's "Catcher of the Future" was recalled in August and got his feet wet with 67 ABs that year.
He seemed on the inside track to split catching duties with Mike Redmond in March of 2000. However, the Marlins chose to keep Sandy Martinez and send Castro back to Triple A to start the season. This time, Castro mashed Triple A pitching - .335/.380/.628 - and made the All-Star team. The Marlins called him up in late July. He became the team's #1 catcher, but didn't hit.
Not comfortable with Castro as their starter anymore, the Marlins went out and signed Charles Johnson for the 2001 season. Though Castro was out of options, the Marlins sent him to Triple A in April and he surprisingly cleared waivers. Still only 25, Castro again posted an OPS over 1.000 at Triple A. Teams started calling Dave Dombrowski, interested in making a deal. Castro earned only a September call-up in '01. The Blue Jays expressed interest that winter, but Castro stayed put.
Castro seemed certain to be traded heading into 2002, but an injury to Johnson opened the door for him to begin the season with the Marlins. An elbow issue surfaced in May, but Dr. James Andrews deemed it a sprain and Castro was back by mid-June. Castro received only 101 ABs that year, but did begin to show some power with a .455 SLG.
Heading into 2003, the Marlins still didn't have faith in Castro so they signed Ivan Rodriguez to a one-year deal. Good idea. Castro stuck in the Majors most of the year but got only 53 ABs as the third catcher.
Then in late August of '03, Castro was arrested on a rape charge. A few days later he posted bond and rejoined the Marlins, declaring his innocence. His hearing was postponed, but the Fish didn't put him on the playoff roster. Prior to the hearing, Castro signed a one-year, $400K deal for 2004 with the Marlins. He entered a not-guilty plea as the trial was pushed back to October of '04. Most of the playing time went to Mike Redmond that year, and Castro hit the DL in June with an inflamed toe. Mike Lowell suggested that the impending trial contributed to Castro's .135/.231/.260 line in 2004.
Assigned to Triple A in October, Castro opted for free agency instead. As for the trial, the charge was reduced to misdemeanor indecent assault and Castro plead no-contest. The plea did not acknowledge wrongdoing. Castro was sentenced to a year of probation.
In December of 2004, new Mets GM Omar Minaya signed Castro to a minor-league deal. He spent some time on the DL for a sprained quad, but still racked up a career-high 209 ABs as Mike Piazza's backup. He posted a decent .756 OPS.
The Mets signed Castro to an $800K deal for '06, but a strained rib cage caused him to miss time. While rehabbing that, he tore his medial meniscus and needed surgery. He finally made it back at the end of September, but it was a lost year.
Castro signed for $850K last winter to again serve as Paul Lo Duca's backup. Lo Duca hasn't been healthy or hitting, and Castro's having his best season with an .889 OPS.
In 119 games as a Met, Castro has a .255/.324/.455 line with 21 HR in 459 ABs. One has to wonder if he could do that in a single season. If so, he'd be one of the better catchers available. In the past, Castro has shown the ability to throw out 30%+ of would-be basestealers. However, he's nailed just two of 25 this year. Mets fans - what's up with that?
Teams like the Devil Rays, Mets, Cubs, Astros, and Padres may all be looking for catchers this winter. Castro should get consideration as a regular, and might be a decent buy at two years, $8MM or so.
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