Should the Twins try to trade a catcher before Opening Day?

The Twins have three catchers vying for two spots.
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It's hard to believe, but there's only 37 days until Opening Day in what could be a very chilly late March day at Target Field in downtown Minneapolis. 

With spring training now in full force, the roster will undoubtedly be made up of the 59 guys currently in camp in Fort Myers, Florida, but there's no reason the Twins can't get creative and maximize the value they have in having three potentially starting-caliber catchers battling for a couple of jobs. 

With teams typically only carrying two backstops, Jason Castro, Mitch Garver and fan favorite Willians Astudillo are all in consideration. It wouldn't hurt Twins bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to explore trading one of them before Opening Day. 

Why they should?

Let's start with Castro. The veteran only played 19 games in 2018 before a knee injury ended his season. As a defensive catcher, Castro earns his keep with his pitch framing and ability to call a good game.

He doesn't bring much to the plate offensively, owning a batting average of .218 over the last five seasons. As good as he can be behind the plate, he can be an automatic out more often than not with a bat in his hand. 

It's also worth mentioning that earlier this offseason the Twins reportedly made a multi-year offer to free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal, according to KSTP's Darren Wolfson.

If the Twins had landed Grandal, who signed a deal with the Brewers, Castro could've been sent packing as it would've been highly unlikely the Twins would keep a backup catcher who's earning $8 million.

With Castro being a free agent after the season, he's expendable, especially since Garver and Astudillo appear to be a capable tandem on a potential playoff team. 

Why they shouldn't 

Let's start with Garver for this one. Because of Castro's injury, Garver earned extra playing time last season.

Unlike Castro, Garver is a bat-first backstop. His numbers were above league average in 2018.

  • Garver: .268/.335/.414
  • League average catcher: .248/.318/.409

But as promising as his bat is, his defense needs significant work. Garver's defensive rating ranked dead last among catchers who caught at least 500 innings last year, according to FanGraphs

Astudillo is in a similar boat but might have an even more valuable bat because he's shown the ability to hit for average and put the ball in play. 

In nine minor league seasons, Astudillo has a career batting average of .306. When he was called up by the Twins last September, he put up even better numbers, slashing .355/.371/.516 and struck out just three times in 97 plate appearances. 

He played in the Venezuelan winter league the past couple months and all he did was hit .316/.360/.481 with eight home runs and 41 RBI, including this epic blast that took the internet by storm.

The guy can flat out rake, although it's yet to be seen if he can consistently hit big-league pitching. 

He only caught 16 games in 2018, so it's unfair to judge him defensively but it is worth noting he threw out 57 percent of would-be base stealers between Triple-A Rochester and the Twins. 

With Garver and Astudillo, ages 28 and 27 years old, respectively, the Twins could have a duo entering the prime years of their careers. Castro, meanwhile, is entering his age 32 season, isn't a great hitter and is fresh off a knee injury. None of that bodes well for long-term success

Also, Twins fans are well aware of the costs of shipping a catcher early. It's what a previous regime did in 2010 when Wilson Ramos was traded to the Nationals for Matt Capps. 

But do spring training trades happen?

The short answer is, no, they don't happen often. Only a few have, like the Yankees trading A.J. Burnett to the Pirates in 2012; or reliever Jason Hammel being traded twice in his career during spring training.

The most realistic chance of the Twins dealing a catcher is if a No. 1 catcher on another team gets hurt between now and Opening Day. The Twins would then have some leverage with three potential starters on roster. 

It seems Castro is the most expendable due to his expiring contract and two up-and-coming catchers pushing him for playing time.

It's also possible that Castro flat out loses the starting job to Garver or Astudillo this spring. For example, Astudillo is one day into spring training and he's already popped one over the fence during live batting practice against Twins ace Jose Berrios. 

It's more likely the Twins don't make a trade before Opening Day, but even if they don't it'll be a storyline worth following leading up to the July 31 MLB trade deadline.

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