SARASOTA, Fla. — Everybody knew that free agent Matt Wieters would not be reporting to the Ed Smith Stadium spring training complex along with the Orioles pitchers and catchers on Monday, but he was still conspicuous by his absence.
The locker that he had occupied every spring since the Orioles moved into the facility now has Welington Castillo's name above it and Castillo's new O's jersey hanging in it, which just made it all the more real.
"It's different, that's for sure, but it happens," said Zach Britton, who developed into the top closer in baseball over the past two years with Wieters as a regular presence behind the plate. "We've had a lot of turnover with some big guys that have been here for a long time. We saw Nick [Markakis] leave and we saw B-Rob [Brian Roberts] in a Yankees uniform, so it's not something new but it's obviously not something you want to have happen.
"You want to have him be part of the cast forever, but that's not realistic. Just hoping that he finds a team and has a good season."
Wieters has been one of the top catchers in baseball since breaking into the Orioles lineup in 2009, but remains unsigned as training camps open in Florida and Arizona. That has allowed for some fans to hold out hope he still might rejoin the Orioles, but baseball operations chief Dan Duquette seemed to dismiss that possibility again on Monday morning.
"We made a choice when we went to sign Castillo," Duquette said. "We liked him. We liked his experience. We liked his capability. We like the way he had checked all the boxes on the key catching components over the last couple years. So, we made a value choice to go sign him and we'll see how that works out for us."
Of course, that choice figures to have a significant impact on the preparation of the Orioles pitching staff this spring, since Castillo is set to play for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
"It's a nice honor for Welington, but it's not the best development for the Orioles because we have a new catcher in camp and he needs to learn our pitchers and learn how to work with them," Duquette said, "so that process is going to take a little more time to develop."
The Orioles are going to be depending heavily on Castillo to help advance the development of young starting pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, but neither believes that the time he spends playing in the WBC will prevent them from getting comfortable with him.
"I'm looking forward to it," Gausman said. "It's kind of a fun process getting to know a new catcher. Sometimes, when you have different guys they kind of bring new ideas and insight to you on how you can pitch and get these guys out."
Duquette said that Castillo will need a "crash course" to get familiar with all of the pitchers he may have to catch this season, but Bundy thinks there will be enough time to get everyone in sync.
"I've seen him catch and he knows what he's doing back there so I'm sure it won't take him long to figure us out," Bundy said. "We just have to get used to it."
They'll also have to get used to not seeing Wieters in the clubhouse.
"It happens … it's baseball," Bundy said. "Once you get to free agency, sometimes you have to go other places. I'm looking forward to seeing what [Castillo] brings and getting to know him a little better."
"It's a little weird," said Gausman. "He's been here obviously before I came here and since I've been here, so it's a little different seeing a different guy's name [above his locker], but that's kind of part of the process and shows you the business side of baseball, I guess."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.