Jason Castro returns home on 2-year deal

January 23rd, 2021

HOUSTON -- He was drafted and developed by the Astros, has called Houston his home for several years and gets to be reunited with pitching coach Brent Strom, one of the most respected coaches he’s had in his career. Now the only thing needs to make his homecoming complete is to ask catcher if he’ll let him wear his familiar No. 15 jersey number.

“I was waiting for this to be more official until I broach that subject with him,” joked Castro, who signed a two-year deal to rejoin the Astros on Friday. Terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, but it is worth $7 million, plus $2 million in incentives, sources told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

No matter what number Castro -- or Maldonado -- dons for the Astros this year, general manager James Click feels good about his situation behind the plate with a pair of well-respected veterans who give manager Dusty Baker a left-right combination. Maldonado is right-handed and Castro bats lefty.

“It is something that was a priority for us this offseason,” Click said. “We obviously feel good about the catchers that we had on the roster last year, but it's an area, like pitching, where depth can become a deficit very quickly. The physical demands of that position are obviously pretty strenuous. Adding somebody of Jason's character, his reputation, his knowledge of Strommy and the pitching staff was a priority, so that makes me feel a lot better about the roster.”

Castro, drafted in the first round by the Astros out of Stanford in 2008, ranks third on the Astros’ all-time games caught list with 572. The 33-year-old left the Astros in free agency following the 2016 season -- the year before they won the World Series -- and spent three seasons with the Twins (2017-19), then split last year between the Angels and Padres. He played in 27 games in 2020’s shortened season and hit .188 in 80 at-bats.

Spending part of last season in the AL West, Castro was impressed with the development of some of Houston’s young arms, including Framber Valdez, Enoli Paredes, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy, and looks forward to working with them. The only pitchers he’s previously caught are Lance McCullers Jr. and Ryan Pressly (with the Twins).

“Having spent my first seven years in the big leagues here with Houston and being drafted here and making Houston my home, it was a fairly easy decision,” Castro said. “The family is excited that we get to be back home for the season.”

Maldonado started 46 of the Astros’ 60 regular-season games last year (77 percent), with Dustin Garneau serving as his primary backup. Castro will carry a much bigger workload but is looking forward to working with the respected Maldonado.

“I've played against him for a long time now, and just having that kind of opposition relationship with him, knowing how he plays the game, he's a hard worker,” Castro said. “I've heard really good things about him as far as his interactions with handling the pitchers. He actually texted me yesterday, so we got to talk briefly, just connected before Spring Training.”

Castro has ranked about league average in framing in the past few years, and he has been league average in throwing out runners attempting to steal in his career. His last good season framing-wise was in 2016 -- his final year in Houston -- when he had 12 runs from extra strikes, which was fifth among all catchers.

With active rosters at 26 once again this year, the Astros could carry as a third catcher, or choose to use that spot for a position-player, such as infielder . But there’s no doubt Houston’s catching situation should be markedly improved over last year.

Click hinted the Astros might be done with their offseason heavy lifting, though they could add some complementary pieces. In addition to Castro, they signed relievers Ryne Stanek and Pedro Báez earlier this month, but lost star outfielder George Springer in free agency to Toronto. The Astros also have an agreement with outfielder Michael Brantley to return on a two-year deal.

“I don't think that I can pinpoint a single area on our roster that we will be particularly aggressive about shoring up,” Click said. “We are having a lot of conversations with players that are still out there, as well as other teams, and sometimes we can address one area and then backfill with another move and try to recreate it that way. So, there are innumerable options out there for us to chase down, and that's what keeps us busy and that’s what we'll be working on.”