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Nats continue infield revamp with Starlin deal

Four-time All-Star brings veteran presence, defensive versatility
@zachsilver
January 7, 2020

WASHINGTON -- There were many reasons Starlin Castro had an attraction to the Nationals. He’s seen how they operated while playing in the same division the past two seasons, got “really tight” with manager Dave Martinez while the two were with the Cubs and became awe-stricken watching the club go

WASHINGTON -- There were many reasons Starlin Castro had an attraction to the Nationals. He’s seen how they operated while playing in the same division the past two seasons, got “really tight” with manager Dave Martinez while the two were with the Cubs and became awe-stricken watching the club go ascend from the pitfalls in May to a World Series in November.

“I always told my family, 'If I get in a position to make a decision, it's going to be the Nationals,'” Castro said.

His wish was granted Tuesday afternoon, when Washington made official a two-year pact with the four-time All-Star, a deal worth $12 million, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

Castro brings to D.C. both versatility and dependability. He learned to play third base in 2019, and though the Nationals aren’t believed to be out of the running for free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson, Castro falls into part of the Plan B that has been worked towards this week.

In addition to Castro, the Nationals have bolstered their infield in recent days by reportedly agreeing to terms with Asdrúbal Cabrera and first baseman Eric Thames along with re-signing postseason hero Howie Kendrick in December.

Donaldson still appears to be the preferred avenue, but should the 2015 American League MVP Award winner sign elsewhere, the Nationals have a few options -- Castro, Cabrera and potentially No. 1 prospect Carter Kieboom -- to split time at third base.

Castro said that he's become more comfortable at third after making the first 42 starts of his career there in 2019.

“For me, I think I can play. I can play,” said Castro, once the everyday shortstop with the Cubs. “… Felt kind of scary in the first few games, and I feel really comfortable at second base, but I know I can play third too.

Until the third-base dust settles, the Nats at least know what they get in Castro, who has been in the National League East with Miami the past two seasons after being dealt from the Yankees in the Giancarlo Stanton trade.

Castro is a steadfast presence in both the lineup and batter’s box, appearing in at least 112 games in each of his 10 career seasons -- including all 162 last year.

Last season, the right-handed-hitting Castro slashed .270/.300/.436 with 22 homers and 86 RBIs, including a .302/.334/.558 slash line with 16 homers and 52 RBIs in the second half.

“I just said to myself, 'I am going to try and hit the ball in the air -- no matter what will happen,'” Castro said.

With a career slash line of .280/.319/.414, Castro has 1,617 career hits, 27th among active players and fourth since 2010, when the once No. 16 prospect in MLB, according to Baseball America, debuted. He has hit below .265 in a season only once, in '13, though his 4.1% walk rate last season (bottom 3% of the league, per Statcast) could use some work.

On top of the chance to play amid a World Series title defense -- and looking up to fellow countryman Alfonso Soriano’s 40/40 season with Washington in 2006 -- Castro lauded Martinez’s skills as a communicator as perhaps the biggest reason he signed with the Nationals.

“For me, and I know a lot of guys [are] on the same page, when you have a manager that is a really good communicator with players, it’s easier for you to get to the field and do 100% for a guy that trusts you,” Castro said, adding that his first phone call after he signed was from Martinez.

After his front-seat view to watching the Nats ended with the Marlins in September, Castro became glued to watching the his former rival.

“I saw every game back home, and I rooted for them,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to sign with them, but I rooted for them.”

Castro, who will turn 30 on March 24, just two days before Opening Day, said that he also looks forward to the opportunity to mentor Washington’s younger crop of players, a role he took on with rebuilding Miami. That's especially true with Victor Robles and Juan Soto, who, like Castro was 10 years ago, are a burgeoning players out of the Dominican Republic.

“How you prepare every day to how you focus on the game,” Castro said. “That’s the thing that helped me when I was a young kid.”

Zachary Silver is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Baltimore/Washington. Follow him on Twitter @zachsilver.