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Should the Arizona Diamondbacks have retained Welington Castillo?

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Following up on the Brad Ziegler question from yesterday, should they have kept the hard-hitting (but increasingly expensive) catcher?

Welington Castillo was one of the most surprising players not to be tendered a contract this winter, though wasn’t the only slugger so designated. Former Diamondback Chris Carter (for all of 11 days in December 2007, between arriving from the White Sox for Carlos Quentin, and going to the A’s in the Dan Haren trade) was similarly non-tendered by the Brewers, despite leading the league with 41 home-runs last season. Like Castillo, Carter’s defensive issues and increasing cost in arbitration proved to be more decisive factors.

Castillo was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn about $5.9 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and ended up signing a two-year deal with the Baltiomore Orioles potentially worth $13 million in total. He’ll get $6m in 2017, rising to $7m in 2018, if he exercises his player option. Would this suggest the Diamondbacks would have been better off holding onto their portion of Beef?

The case for

There’s not much doubt about Castillo’s value with the bat. Among the 42 catchers in the majors with 200+ PA for 2016, his offensive bWAR of 1.6 ranked Welington fifteenth. Even though his power numbers were down this year, they’ve still been among the best at his position. The 33 homers Castillo has hit since the beginning of 2015, is beaten only by five catchers, and his rate in that time of one home-run every 25.3 PAs is well above the major-league average for the position (2016 = one per 34.9 PA).

Specifically for the Diamondbacks, the main problem with getting rid of Castillo, is the lack of any other credible candidates as an everyday catcher. Going into the winter, the other catchers on the 40-man roster were Tuffy Gosewisch, Chris Herrmann and Oscar Hernandez. None of them had ever started more than 34 games in a season behind the plate. Even that was Gosewisch (in 2015), and he was crossed off the list when acquired by the Braves on waivers in mid-November. That left Herrmann, whose career high in starts at catcher is 32 (also in 2015), and Hernandez, who has 10 career major-league starts, and spent the rest of 2016 in High-A and Double-A.

Even though the team subsequently signed Jeff Mathis to a two-year, $4 million contract, the last time he started even half his team’s games in a season was 2008, and the figures for the last two years were 29 and 36 starts. Going on those past performances, he would seem much more likely to be a back-up than an everyday starter for Arizona. Unless the team really thinks Hernandez or Herrmann is ready to strap on the armor everyday, or if there is another move coming down the pipe this off-season, the Diamondbacks could have used Castillo.

The case against

There are severe question-marks about Castillo’s abilities as a catcher, though this kind of things is still hard to quantify. There are two sets of stats available, from StatCorner and Baseball Prospectus, and both agree that he has been below average each of the past two seasons. The former did think Welington improved this year, going from -11.6 runs compared to average (across all his time in 2015 with the Cubs, Mariners and D-backs) to -3.2. But the latter was less impressed by his efforts, rating Beef at -11.0 runs in 2015, and -9.7 for this year.

That was enough to take his overall value, by Baseball Prospectus’s WARP metric (neither bWAR nor fWAR include pitch framing in their value) to just one win above replacement level for 2016. Paying close to $6 million for that level of production, especially on a team which seems unlikely to contend, could be seen to be a pointless extravagance. shoewizard mentioned rumblings about the team’s unhappiness with Castillo’s level of pre-game preparation, and given Arizona’s pitching problems this year, he may have been seen as more of the problem than the solution.

The other issue is, this was Castillo’s final year of team control. Even if we had retained Castillo, this would only have pushed the problem back a season, and we would still be facing the need to replace him at this point next winter. Maybe the team will treat 2016 as a catcher’s laboratory: get Hernandez up here, and give him the entire season to become familiar working with the (mostly young and/or long-term) pitching staff. Any bumps along the way are not exactly likely to derail the 2016 D-backs’ playoff push, and if it works, we’ve got our everyday catcher problem solved for the next four years.

Conclusion

It was certainly a surprise that the team chose simply to let Castillo go, but it’s probably an indication of the mentality which the new front-office is bringing, with no loyalty to any of the previous regime’s acquisitions. However, that he was signed by Baltimore certainly shows he was of value to another team, and even if the price-tag for Welington was virtually identical to what he would have cost in arbitration, you have to wonder, was there absolutely no trade interest in him? Even a lottery ticket prospect would have been an improvement over the lump of coal Arizona instead received for him. But you have to presume there wasn’t - or, at least, nothing worth using up a roster spot in advance of the Rule 5 draft, which would mean exposing, and possibly losing, another prospect.