Baseball players really, are not so much different from the athletes in the other three major American sports as we might think. With basketball, football, and hockey, we largely associate the play with furious running, jumping, diving, slamming into each other, and what have you, while baseball is remembered (and wrongly bemoaned) for its pregnant pauses, as 'specialists' prepare to do the one thing they do well. David Wells, the fat oaf with the curveball, David Eckstein, the runt with the quick reflexes are commonly used examples.
While these cases exist, baseball is still ruled by the super-athletes. The Albert Pujolses, Carl Crawfords, Robinson Canos, and soon the Jason Heywards, the Mike Stantons, and perhaps one day again, the Alex Rioses? And baseball has no greater numbers of specialists than the other sports have; basketball has the perimeter shooters, football has its enormous run-stopping nose guards, and once upon a glorious day, hockey had the goon.
Ramon Castro is an athlete in this mold, with the highly developed skill of being very, very, big and strong, which allows him to clock balls over the U.S. Cellular wall. As a supplement, he's somehow able to place himself in a complete squat for longer than I could ever imagine being in despite being very, very big. If there's a cross-sport comparison for Ramon, perhaps DeSagana Diop during the 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks season; big, tall, kinda skilled, but mostly willing.
Ramon Castro in 2010 - big, strong, possibly skilled...and willing. Willing.
Stat line: .278 BA, .328 OBP, .504 SLG, .832 OPS, 128 PA, 18 R, 2 2B, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 9 BB, 26 SO, 1 SB (100%!), .362 wOBA, 1.0 Whatever FanGraphs is using to rate Catcher's defense, 1.1 WAR
What did we expect?: A corpse floating in the river.
Lance Broadway has allegedly joined the fraternal order of men who like to get drunk and beat on people, so any regret about the trade for Castro had worn away by the early portions of Spring Training. Still, the Sox had acquired Ramon for spoiled milk to be the backup catcher, and he had a perplexingly bad offensive campaign (.248 BABIP), threw out runners slightly better than A.J. (30%) but also managed to be older, bigger, and slower. Then he got hurt in spring training...while running.
"A backup catcher, and not a penny more. He provides
adequate defense and probably three strikeouts a game at the plate.
Admittedly, I might prefer three strikeouts to all the double plays
he'll hit into this year. Arriving at the ballpark to realize that
Ramon is getting the start behind the plate is kind of like finding out
your parents aren't coming to your youth soccer game; just a lingering
feeling of emptiness casting a pall on an otherwise enjoyable affair."
My Dad came to every single one of my soccer games, and most of the practices, so I literally have no idea what I'm talking about here.
The result: The most impressive offensive year for Castro since 2007 began with him on the shelf as Donny Lucy went ballistic in his place as the backup in April. The combination of Lucy's breakout and Ramon's lackluster 2009 made the swiftness at which the productive younger player was tossed back to the minors seem criminal, and I reacted pretty much like Kenny Williams was going to execute a puppy on live television...until I realized that he was the backup catcher and I probably needed to go outside and perhaps go for a walk.
It didn't help though, that Ramon played like a guy who had been hurt for the last month for his first month back, and the .554 OPS he contributed in May, gave the White Sox about the worst month of offensive output from the catcher position outside of Detroit.
From there on out, Ramon did almost nothing besides hit the ball extremely hard. It always made sense that Castro would have a lot of muscle, but after becoming so familiar with him flopping the bat around at bad pitches, seeing the big man just completely locked in and driving everything was really....well...it was something else. After a rocky May, Castro went on a stretch where he hit 26 of 71 (.366) with a .416 OBP, .648 SLG, 6 HR, and 15 RBI. His slugging percentage would have been higher if he could leg out a double to save his life, instead he just continued the Paul Konerko-Jim Thome tradition of hitting singles that were millimeters away from being home runs.
The problem with this is; those 76 at-bats? They stretched out over 3 months. 3! Half the season! Ramon was over 1.200 OPS in June and July, but made only 12 appearances, and just 10 starts. His workload ticked up in August (10 games, 8 starts), and his production dipped (.848 OPS), until he became as useless as anyone on the roster in September in 8 games and 7 starts (3 for 25, 8 Ks).
At best, Ramon showed he can be productive when played in very spread-out bursts, at worst, he's a guy who only played 37 games all year and none of this is really reliable data. With his footspeed behind the plate and on the bases (molasses in the arctic), and average throwing ability (28% caught stealing), he's gotta be the power-hitting guy to serve a purpose.
Love him or leave him: Ramon's option is already picked up for 2011, and from a purely objective standpoint, someone who can be an asset to the offense even when playing infrequently is ideal for the backup catcher role. But as someone who's career-high games played in a season is 99, and even that came back in 2005 when he was still under 30, my wardrobe was mostly purchased at Foot Locker, and Joe Crede's back still worked, Ramon isn't someone who could ever start. For the White Sox, who are trying to bring along Tyler Flowers but don't trust him not to run into the ground as a starter, this puts them in quite a pinch. They have to bring in another depreciating veteran to start, and even then Ramon is blocking Flowers' path.
It's an unfortunate circumstance that's really just Tyler's fault for Crash Davis-ing in Triple-A, not Ramon's for being exactly what the Sox traded for: a veteran backup catcher with a pulse.
Jim at SoxMachine invites you to rate all of Kenny Williams' trades as a GM. I didn't make it all the way down, but I assume there are some hotline numbers at the bottom should you need aid upon completion.