Castro optimistic as arbitration hearing looms

Castro optimistic as arbitration hearing looms

HOUSTON -- Astros catcher Jason Castro has watched the franchise's rebuilding project from the start. The former first-round pick made his Major League debut on June 22, 2010, and saw every player who was in the lineup that day eventually get traded as Houston moved to get younger.

Castro sat through three consecutive 100-loss seasons, crouching behind the plate admirably while pitchers got roughed up and games dragged on. He never complained publicly and always said the right thing, something he continues to do as he and the Astros appear to be headed for an arbitration hearing scheduled for Feb. 8.

The two sides are only $250,000 apart -- Castro filed for $5.25 million and the Astros offered $5 million. The team and the player can negotiate until the hearing, but it appears Houston is prepared to let a three-person panel decide Castro's 2016 salary.

"It's part of the process," Castro, 28, said Saturday during the team's annual FanFest at Minute Maid Park. "The way things kind of played out, it's got us to this point. We have agents for a reason, and you trust those guys to handle the situation and let things get taken care of. I've pretty much been trying to focus on my workouts and those types of things and let my representatives take care of it. We'll see what happens when we get closer to the date."

The Astros, who said they won't comment on arbitration cases, haven't had a case go to a hearing since outfielder Hunter Pence won a ruling for $6.9 million prior to the 2011 season. That was the season prior to the arrival of general manager Jeff Luhnow, who's yet to take a case to a hearing.

Arbitration hearings can get messy and lead to bad feelings. That's unlikely in Castro's situation, but it's surprising the Astros would be willing to go to a hearing over $250,000.

"It's a business and, as players, we kind of understand that," Castro said. "It is what it is. Obviously, we would have liked to reach a deal, but we're looking for something that's fair for both sides and makes sense. We'll see what happens. Anything can happen before the hearing, but it all comes [to] the point it's another part of the process. It's a right that's in place for the players, and we'll move through it if it gets to that."

Castro, who hit .211 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs last year but drew raves for his defense, could be entering his final season with Houston. He's a free agent at the end of the season.

"It's a different feeling," Castro said. "I'm excited for this upcoming season. This year brings a lot of hope for us, and we're really excited and looking forward to having another great year and continue to get better. I'm excited to be an Astro for another season."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.