Welington Castillo’s 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s joint drug agreement, which was first reported by Dominican reporter Americo Celado and confirmed by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, puts the White Sox in a position of both dealing with and reacting to a player being hit with such a punishment, as well as stuck with a roster hole that was, to date, one of the few position groups that had any semblance of stability.
I’ll save the hand-wringing over the integrity and morality of Castillo’s deed for those who feel more inclined (although Rosenthal also confirmed the suspension is not for a steroid), but assuming MLB confirms the suspension Thursday, the White Sox will essentially be right back where they were prior to Castillo’s signing — with a glaring black hole behind the plate.
Omar Narvaez, who was more or less than starting catcher throughout 2017, is better served as a backup catcher (if that), and what he brought to the table last season (on-base skills) hasn’t carried over to his part-time work this year. Narvaez is hitting .180/.275/.246 through 70 plate appearances with twice as many strikeouts as walks. Castillo’s defensive numbers, which have dipped this year after a career-year in 2017, were more palatable considering the plus offensive skills he provided. Narvaez provides none of that, and poor defensive skills to boot. In his limited action, he ranks last in the majors in FRAA_ADJ at -5.7. And while he has thrown out 31 percent of attempted base stealers, he leads the league in passed balls allowed.
Behind Narvaez will presumably be a familiar face in Kevan Smith. The 29-year-old, who spent a majority of last season with the White Sox, was just placed on the minor league 7-day disabled list, although the severity of the injury is unknown. Smith provides a bit more offense than Narvaez, and has also received glowing reviews from pitchers for his game calling in the past, but features the same defensive shortcomings.
Outside of those two, there aren’t a lot of options. The only other catcher on the 40-man roster is Alfredo Gonzalez, who has received glowing reviews for his framing throughout his minor league career, but is a career .233/.319/.304 hitter at the minor league level, including .169/.278/.191 thus far this season with Triple-A Charlotte. The other catcher on Charlotte’s roster, Brett Austin, was Carlos Rodon’s catcher at N.C. State but has garnered just five at-bats this season and is also currently on the disabled list. 39-year-old Carlos Ruiz and old friend Geovany Soto are free agent possibilities, but it’s unclear if there is any interest or if either would represent much of an upgrade over Narvaez and/or Smith.
What this means for Castillo’s future is perhaps even more unclear. When the White Sox signed him to a two year, $15 million deal with a team option for 2020 in the offseason, it was seen as a level-headed move for a stabilizing veteran meant to bridge the gap between the present and when Zack Collins was presumed ready to take over.
80 games is demoralizing for a team, not because they’re trying to contend, but because that stability is now lost. Castillo will presumably rejoin the team following the suspension and play out his contract in 2019, but what comes next for both him and the White Sox catching position is now up in the air.
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