Sources: The Padres are trading for catcher Jason Castro, sending righty reliever Gerardo Reyes to the Angels in return. Deal is pending medicals.
— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) August 30, 2020
Catcher has been the main weak spot for San Diego this year. Austin Hedges is hitting .167/.262/.352, and that’s actually better than last year’s batting line. He needs to be more or less perfect behind the plate to make up for that, and he’s fallen short of that this year. The depth chart behind him looks even worse; Francisco Mejia combines the defense of someone the Padres have been hiding in left field to avoid his catching butchery with a line that would make Hedges blush; .079/.146/.184. He’s also on the Injured List with a thumb injury. Third-stringer Luis Torrens has been acceptable in 13 plate appearances, but he’s hardly a solid stopgap.
Enter Castro, whose .192/.323/.385 slash line this year, good for a 98 wRC+, would be the best offensive contribution the Padres have received from a catcher in quite some time. That’s not a good thing, per se — he’s striking out 37.1% of the time with a gross 15% swinging strike rate — but as the saying goes, any port in a storm. Perhaps no position player in baseball this side of Jeff Mathis projects to be worse than Hedges on offense.
Castro’s offensive production, while it would be an upgrade, isn’t the reason teams value his services. He’s made a career out of hitting enough to be playable while saving runs behind the plate, a sort of halfway version of Hedges, who has been one of the worst hitters in baseball his entire career but arguably the game’s best defensive catcher.
This offseason, Castro signed with Los Angeles for one year and $6.85 million. The Angels saw Castro as the exact sort of player to get their stars-and-scrubs lineup over the top; a roughly league-average backstop whose framing would be a welcome aid for a questionable pitching staff. He spent this season platooning with righty Max Stassi, and while the Angels fell out of contention early, catching was hardly the culprit.
In San Diego, Castro will likely work as a platoon partner to Hedges. He’s been a poor hitter against lefties and an above-average one against righties over the course of his lengthy career, and every single metric looks worse when he’s forced to face same-handed pitching:
Even regressing that ‘vs. L’ line towards the mean doesn’t make it look anything less than ugly. Keep him away from those dastardly southpaws, though, and that’s a great line for a glove-first catcher. Hedges, meanwhile, is right-handed, which makes him an ideal platoon complement to Castro. While he’s been just as bad against lefty pitching as righty in his career, it’s been far too short of one to read much into that. If his platoon splits look roughly average, he’ll be a terrible hitter rather than a pitcher-batting hitter when he gets his starts.
It’s unlikely that the Padres see much more in Castro than the big side of a catching platoon, but that’s all they really need. They’ve gotten excellent offensive production everywhere else except left field, where Tommy Pham‘s return should provide a boost, and DH, which they improved by trading for Mitch Moreland earlier today:
The Padres aren’t suddenly the best team in baseball. They aren’t even the best team in their division — the Dodgers still comfortably hold that title, and they’ve likely sewn up the NL West title already. That’s immaterial in this year’s playoff format, however; the name of the game is to make the postseason. From there, there are two strategies. One: hope the Dodgers lose in the three-game first round, where anything can happen. Two: pull a Nationals and simply beat the Dodgers yourself.
To that end, A.J. Preller has gone down a checklist of spots he can shore up. Kirby Yates out for the year? Add Trevor Rosenthal. Catching got you down? Just add water and Jason Castro. DH ugly? Mitch Moreland is only a phone call, as well as two solid prospects, away. There’s still a day left until the trade deadline, too. The Friars’ starting rotation could use some help. Mike Clevinger and Lance Lynn are still out there, and with the Rangers shopping Joey Gallo, a left field upgrade who can shift to right upon Pham’s return might be on the menu as well.
Of course, you can’t discuss a trade without talking about both sides of it, and the Angels are getting a high-octane relief prospect in exchange for their catcher. Gerardo Reyes is a power-pitcher starter kit; he sports an upper-90s fastball that he used to bully his way through the high minors and a slider that batters can’t hit — his 38.8% whiff-per-swing rate on the pitch in limited major league experience last year is no fluke.
Why isn’t he the bullpen upgrade the Padres are searching for, then? They did just trade for a reliever with an upper-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, after all. Reyes’s biggest issue is that most common relief pitcher Achilles heel: a 30 command grade that means if his strike-throwing ability slips at all, that might be all she wrote.
Reyes’s brief major league stint in 2019 was the first level where he ran a walk rate below 10% since Low-A in 2016. His arm slot, somewhere between sidearm and three-quarters, wreaks havoc on righties, but it also makes for a tough delivery to repeat. It wouldn’t be a shock if he turned into a usable bullpen arm, but he might also never find the zone enough to be a consistent major league contributor. For the Angels, whose upper-minors pitching “depth” is an insult to the word, he’s a risk worth taking, even if other teams wouldn’t have the space to find out whether the whole package will work.
Preller’s first big trade spree, before the 2015 season, didn’t pan out well. This is a different plan, though: in 2015, Preller looked to add big names to complement existing role players. This time, the big names are already in place, which makes the cost of completing a roster far more palatable.
His prospect-hoarding ways have also left the Padres overstuffed with 40-man-eligible players. By dealing away four of them over the past two days, as well as a player to be named later who could well fit the bill, Preller is killing two birds with one stone. Eric Longenhagen projected Reyes on the 40-man fringe this offseason, and upgrading the 2020 roster rather than losing him for free is obviously a good deal.
You can’t win a World Series at the trade deadline, much as some pundits might believe. You can, however, find a team whose trash is your treasure and vice versa. The Angels might have let Castro go for nothing. The Padres likely would have let Reyes go for nothing in a few months. Instead, both teams get something they can use now. This isn’t one of those big, sexy trades that feel like they have the highest potential return — give me your superstar, take my top prospect, for example — but the Padres have their superstars already, which makes it a lot easier to build a team around them.
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