Some Thoughts On Welington Castillo, Seattle Mariner


The Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles just sat through a lengthy rain delay, but not before Steve Pearce hit a first inning grand slam off of J.A. Happ. Blah. The M’s can still salvage this game, of course, but for now let’s talk about Welington Castillo. Castillo’s new, and what’s new is exciting. So as the M’s resume play with a defecit to overcome, let’s take a look at the guy who had an RBI in his first Mariners plate appearance.

The trade that sent Castillo to Seattle was a steal for the Mariners. Perhaps that’s not an overwhelmingly common sentiment, but it’s one I believe to be accurate. The team traded a reliever for an almost-every-day player, and that trade will favor the team getting the position player almost every time. Castillo has been an everyday catcher before. He only isn’t because of the guy in front of him, Mike Zunino.

As far as their status as trade assets goes, Castillo was almost certainly a more valuable piece than Yoervis Medina. The Chicago Cubs shipped him out as a result their own roster construction choices, since they just didn’t really have much of a space for him after acquiring Miguel Montero and David Ross over the offseason. There’s your starter, there’s your backup. Castillo lost his spot, and so he was eventually traded for a player less valuable than himself.

That alone makes this a deal worth doing, and we haven’t even mentioned that the reliever the team shipped out had just pitched himself out of the team’s plans. Nor have we pointed out that Castillo fills a glaring need at backup catcher, where Jesus Sucre has been taking the whole “no bat” thing to disgusting new heights. Medina for Castillo? That’s a steal. The M’s got a good player for cheap.

I mentioned this the other day, but Castillo has been worth 5.5 WAR over the last two seasons. In 2013 he was Chicago’s best player, tallying 3.1 WAR with a 107 wRC+ and really high defensive marks behind the plate. He was worth 2.4 WAR last year with a 91 wRC+. Still very valuable, and perhaps it was kind of strange that the Cubs thought to replace him twice over.

It was a defense thing, of course, which is funny since the defensive metrics are head over heels for him. Perhaps unsurprisingly – he’s got a powerful arm and knows how to take up space behind the plate. These are the kind of things that are measured and applied to defensive statistics for catchers. But the metrics don’t measure game-calling, and they usually don’t take pitch framing into account. Castillo is, by all means, amongst the game’s worst at these two things. Even with some elite defensive skills, his talent in the other areas of catcher defense made him expendable.

It seems way off. How could he possibly be that bad at working with pitchers and winning strikes? If he’s excellent at throwing and a decent hitter, how could there be any way in which he’s so awful at everything else that he would be bumped to third on a depth chart? The M’s wanted him, but the Cubs also actively did not want him. There’s something there for sure.

Castillo just turned 28 and doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear, having appeared in only 310 career games at the major league level. He’s been an average hitter compared to the rest of baseball and a fine one compared to his positional peers. His slow start this year is virtually 100% BABIP-based. The more you look at what Castillo is, the weirder it is that the Cubs didn’t want him. Or anyone else, for that matter. It’s not like Chicago turned down prospect packages because they were waiting for the M’s to finally make Medina available.

The circumstances of Castillo’s arrival in Seattle are weird. We’ve seen catchers with some defensive question marks go undervalued before, but then we’re talking about things like an unproven Stephen Vogt being traded for cash. Castillo’s rather established, and while he’s not young-young, he’s certainly not old. The ceiling isn’t terribly high, but the floor isn’t very low, either. He seems safer than the kind of players that are usually traded for AAA relievers in May.

There’s a game in progress, so go watch that. Castillo just singled, and scored a run! He seems like a good player, and the Mariners got him for cheap when they maybe shouldn’t have been able to. The team was unwilling to do a reliever-for-position-player swap this spring when they said no to Charlie Furbush for Jackie Bradley, Jr. The Bullpen is worse off now than it was then, but the M’s were willing to subtract in order to add Castillo. Maybe it’s because the M’s see a good player in Castillo whereas the rest of the league is kind of scratching it’s head. Jack Zduriencik and company are doing pretty good then, it would seem.

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