For years Miguel Castro has been something of a tease to talent evaluators who see the potential for dominance that he has yet to deliver on a consistent basis. Now the hard-throwing right-hander is a free agent coming off an injury-shortened season with the Yankees in which he again showed off great stuff that produced so-so results.
So the trick for any team interested is how much to gamble on the notion that Castro may still fulfill his high-ceiling potential. The fact that he’s still relatively young, turning 28 in December, adds to the intrigue.
Should the Yankees re-sign him?
WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO LET CASTRO GO
He has been in the big leagues, off and on, since age 20 when he broke in with the Toronto Blue Jays, and at this point the consensus seems to be that he is what he is, a pitcher with a high-velocity sinker, an excellent slider, and a good changeup who doesn’t command his stuff well enough to be a trusted high-leverage reliever.
As one scout told me, “There’s a reason he’s been traded four times. It’s easy to dream on his stuff and he’s a guy that everybody thinks maybe they can get to that next level, but so far nobody has been able to do it.”
In fact, over the years the Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, and the Mets all traded to get Castro and then eventually traded him away, with the Mets most recently trading him to the Yankees last April.
Walks have been perhaps his biggest problem, as was the case with the Yankees. He had 15 walks in 29 innings pitched, in addition to giving up almost a hit an inning, resulting in an unsightly 1.448 WHIP to go with a 4.04 ERA.
He also had a shoulder injury that sidelined him for nearly three months, though he did make it back the last week of the season and pitched two scoreless innings in the ALCS against the Houston Astros.
WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO KEEP CASTRO
Every team could use someone like him to fill out the bullpen in this era when teams use multiple relievers on a nightly basis -- the question is at what price. The Yankees were happy to trade for him at his salary of $2.65 million last season, but he’s likely to get more than that as he enters free agency for the first time.
Castro did have his share of good outings, and because he throws a sinker as his primary fastball he has been good at keeping the ball in the ballpark, averaging 1.1 home runs per nine innings over his career, to go with a 49 percent ground ball rate.
His abbreviated season in the Bronx even offered reason to believe his best years might still be ahead of him. That is, the Yankees convinced him to throw his best pitch, his slider, 42 percent of the time, the highest rate of his career, and he held hitters to a .164 batting average against it.
His changeup was effective as well, as the opposition hit .200 against it. Also, he threw his sinker at the highest velocity of his career, averaging 97.8 mph on it. The problem was the league hit .324 against that two-seamer, which he threw 40 percent of the time.
With all of that in mind, the Yankees may be tempted to believe that with even more tinkering with his pitch usage, Castro could become more consistently dominant.
“The slider is his out pitch so it makes sense for him to throw it more,” said the scout, “but sometimes he can’t throw it for a strike. His walk rate (4.7 per nine innings) is his biggest issue and always has been. But it’s hard to give up on that arm.”
Partly because he was limited to 29 innings by the shoulder injury last season, Castro doesn’t figure to cash in big as a free agent. Scouts I spoke with expect him to sign a one-year deal in the $5-6 million range with the idea of improving his stock, though they didn’t rule out some team giving him a two-year deal, still betting on his potential.
In any case, though Castro pitched to an ERA-plus of 98, or slightly below league average, it’s worth remembering that only one season earlier with the Mets he put up a 116 ERA-plus, the best of his career, while pitching 70 innings.
If he can get back to that form, never mind the high-ceiling potential evaluators once projected, Castro would be an asset in the pen.
He should stay.