When Jason Castro’s meniscus tear was initially announced on May 5, the message was not to panic. Castro missed the 2011 season when he tore his ACL and damaged his meniscus in a Spring Training game, but he was placed on the 10-day disabled list and was certain that it was a short-term procedure.
“It’s been a thing I’ve been dealing with a couple weeks now,” he said, adding that he thought he could play through it earlier this season. “We don’t think that a surgical procedure is necessary. We’re going to do the (cortisone) shot tonight. Hopefully that takes care of most of it.”
Castro consulted with knee specialists, however, and they advised him to have a procedure done. He went under the knife on Tuesday in Vail, Colo., to have a small part of the meniscus removed, and during the procedure, they discovered the damage was worse than they initially thought. So much so that he will be out for the rest of the season and is looking at a five- to six-month return.
“Things did not go as well as hoped with the surgery,” said manager Paul Molitor on Wednesday. “As can be the case from time to time, MRI imaging didn’t give us a clear picture of what was going on in there. The tear was more significant.
“Instead of a partial meniscectomy they had to go ahead and fully repair that meniscus and keep what was left. They thought that was the best action as far as prolonging his career.”
“I guess I’m always preparing a little bit for what could happen in these scenarios,” said chief baseball officer Derek Falvey. “Because Jason had a previous meniscus tear, we knew a little bit more about his history around that. You know when you have the follow-up one, there’s only so much meniscus you can clean up as you go.”
Molitor said that he has had 30 percent of his meniscus removed previously in his career, and that complicates things. “I wasn’t privy to those conversations but obviously having been through multiple surgeries, you’re always informed things can change,” he said. “Getting in there and getting a look is better than the imaging sometimes.”
“I’ve had a few,” Castro said on May 5 when asked if he had had procedures done on his right knee in the past. “It’s all been on the same knee. It’s not something I haven’t gone through in the past.”
Falvey expects Castro, who is in the second year of his three-year, $24.5 million deal, to be available for Opening Day next season. “These surgeons have done a lot of this type of work,” he said. “They know there is the potential for this, especially because he had the previous meniscus issue. I’m not sure I can speak to the level of shock to the doctor, but they knew it was a potential outcome, and prepared Jason for that.”
Molitor says that the Minnesota Twins will stick with Mitch Garver and Bobby Wilson as their catching duo for now. “I have a lot of confidence (in them),” he said. “Since Jason has gone down, they’ve both done some things to show they’re able to help us win. Jason is Jason, and these guys are who they are and we’re going to run them out there.”
Garver, 27, still has his rookie status intact and has taken advantage of his extended opportunity this season. Initially Castro’s backup, he’s shown signs that he can be the starter this season despite never being one of Minnesota’s blue-chip prospects. He’s hitting .254/.313/.424 this season and is showing improvements defensively.
“He’s always been labeled a guy that we thought could contribute with his bat,” said Molitor in early May. “We see a lot of progress with defense, there’s things that he can do better, that him and Smitty [first base coach Jeff Smith] are working on on a daily basis.
“He’s getting a little bit of an opportunity here. Probably has caught more games at this point than I would have thought. But that’s a good chance for him.”
Wilson, 35, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He spent the first five years of his career with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, hitting .208/.272/.321 while catching Ervin Santana’s no-hitter in 2011, before being claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012.
He never played for the Blue Jays, was offered a minor league contract and an invitation to Spring Training by the New York Yankees in 2013, but spent the whole season in Triple-A. He has bounced around since then, playing 113 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, hitting .220/.265/.316 during that span.
He spent all of last season in Triple-A, and thought about retiring after he didn’t make the Twins roster out of Spring Training, according to the FS1 crew, which includes esteemed baseball writers Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci, in their profile of him on their broadcast of the Twins-Cardinals game on Tuesday — a game in which Wilson hit his first home run in the majors since 2016.
Falvey said he will look at the market for catchers, especially because of the lack of major-league ready depth behind Garver and Wilson, but he was sure to give Wilson a vote of confidence.
“We have been prepping for the depth piece, and we are now maybe expanding that search, knowing we’re going to have the chance to have somebody impact us for the full season,” said Falvey. “I will say this, Bobby’s impact as a game-caller, catcher, receiver, leader in that space, and if he can keep hitting home runs at the rate he has already this year, more than than once every 600 plate appearances, as they said last night.
“We know what he is defensively, and that’s what he does from a leadership standpoint. We value that, going back to last year. So I think he really can help us in that space.”
Still, Molitor says the Twins will miss Castro’s pitch-framing and his attention to detail in the preparation he provides the pitchers before every game.
“He certainly understands the value of information that can be applied to how you go about trying to get through the game,” he said. “What’s hard is the game is constantly changing in what your pitcher might bring a game and being able to make adjustments on the fly. Not to mention that his retention of the information that is given is one of the best I’ve ever seen as far as we tell him and he doesn’t need the cheat sheet.”
Falvey echoed what Molitor had to say, adding that he thought the injury affected him at the plate than defensively this season. He feels confident that Wilson is capable of replacing Castro defensively, and has many of the same leadership qualities.
“It’s one of the reasons we recruited him here, his leadership of staff and game calling and framing and otherwise,” Falvey said of Wilson. “So we feel that will be in a good spot.
“For Jason…based on what I’ve gathered, just basic research and otherwise, this impacted him more offensively than it even did defensively. Getting through catching and squatting is not easy, and he would be the last person to complain about it. But turning and twisting, on a meniscus issue, may have more led to some of the challenges he had offensively. So I think this will set him up well for the future.”
For now, Castro’s absence creates opportunities for both Garver and Wilson. The former can prove that he is an everyday starting catcher. The latter can extend a career he thought about ending this spring.