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There has been an assumption this offseason when discussing the Orioles' pursuit of a catcher that needs to be challenged, even just as an exercise.

With Matt Wieters likely out the door as the current jewel of the catching free-agent market, the Orioles are pursuing a catcher who they can pair with Caleb Joseph until top prospect Chance Sisco is ready to be a major league catcher.

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Given Sisco's bat, that could be soon, if manager Buck Showalter considers his defense sufficient. Or it could be in a year or two. But are we sure that it will be Joseph who is paired with Sisco going forward as opposed to the veteran the Orioles bring in?

It all depends on which Joseph they have next year. When he was essentially a regular player in Wieters' absence in 2014 and 2015, Joseph was a perfectly serviceable catcher who hit 20 home runs over two seasons. His defense was an asset, too. But a disaster of a 2016 season that saw him make 141 plate appearances without an RBI and post a .413 OPS has raised questions.

There's plenty of reason to think he'll bounce back. Joseph has never before at any point in his career played once or twice a week like he did last season, and he was never able to get in a groove. Add in the gruesome testicular injury that forced him out for a month, and you have every reason to consider the year an anomaly.

Still, the Orioles optioned him to the minors in August in an attempt to get him going, instead relying on Francisco Pena as their backup catcher for a week and a half. Joseph is a favorite of the coaching staff and his teammates, and deservedly so. But he didn't get a free pass in 2016 and it's tough to expect he'll get one in 2017.

It's perfectly possible that given the pace of the free-agent market at the catching position, that the Orioles might identify someone they like and need to make the term of the contract longer than one year. If someone like Welington Castillo wants a third year, the Orioles could consider it and still not have Sisco blocked once he's deemed ready.

Joseph, despite being optioned to the minors once, only spent 10 days there and thus still has all three of his minor league options remaining. He'll be an expensive minor leaguer if it comes to that, but there's a lot to say about having depth at catcher.

It's all just hypothetical, and Joseph performing anywhere close to what he did in his first two major league seasons could make it moot. But he has been penciled in as part of the Orioles' catching duo for years to come, and changing that line of thinking opens up more possibilities for a free agent this offseason than just assuming it will be a one-year stopgap.

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