In signing Welington Castillo to fill their starting catcher void, the Orioles acquired one of the top available power hitters at that position. Still, the 29-year-old Castillo realizes that what he does at the plate for the Orioles in 2017 will be far less important than what he does behind it.
The team's one-year deal with free-agent Castillo — he will make $6 million in 2017 and could earn another $7 million if he exercises a 2018 player option — became official Friday. The Orioles were able to fill their primary offseason need on a shorter-term deal rather than wait out the market for Matt Wieters, the franchise's homegrown catcher who has started for most of the past eight seasons.
"With his experience, he should be able to help us solidify the team and stabilize the ballclub with his throwing, his catching ability, his hitting and his power," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said of Castillo. "We're glad to have him. It was a key addition for our club and something we've been looking for."
In his first and only full season with the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, Castillo hit .264/.322/.423 with 14 homers and 68 RBIs in 113 games. Over the past three seasons, Castillo has averaged 15 homers and 57 RBIs a year, though that has come with three clubs: the Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs.
"Choosing Baltimore, it was my first option honestly because it's a great team with a lot of great players," Castillo said. "I've been hearing a lot of great things about Buck Showalter, the manager. I want to win here. This is a team that's been in the playoffs a couple years, and I know and I think this team is going to be a competitor, going to be competing in the league, so I want to be a part of this when this team is going to be a champion. I want to win a championship with the Orioles."
Castillo joins an Orioles team that has reached the postseason in three of the past five years while being built around power. Castillo — who hit 19 homers in 378 plate appearances in 2015 — fits that mold. But with all of the responsibilities of the position he plays — including being strong defensively, handling a pitching staff, managing the running game and framing pitches — Castillo said his focus will be on defense.
"I know my part," Castillo said. "I know what to do. My No. 1 job is being on the same page with the pitchers and try to do my best behind the plate. That's my No. 1 job. I know I can hit a little bit, but we have a lot of guys in this lineup, that's what they do, so my focus is going to be play really good defense and try to manage the pitching staff and win games. It's not going to be anything different. Just play a game, go out there and have fun competing all day."
Castillo has been a mixed bag defensively. He owns a strong arm, and ranked in the top five in his league among caught base stealers in three of the past four years. Last year, his defensive wins above replacement (dWAR) of 1.4, according to Baseball Reference, was fifth best among major league catchers. But last year, his 10 passed balls were the most in the National League, and before last season his pitch-framing numbers were often among the worst in the game.
But Castillo is eager to show that he's always working to improve his game. He said he is planning to work with former major league catcher Jose Molina, regarded as one of the game's best pitch framers, this offseason in Puerto Rico.
"I feel like I'm a really good defender honestly," Castillo said. "But I know my weaknesses. … I know myself and I never want to stop improving. I know I still have a lot of room to improve and I'm going to be working on it.
"Every day there's something to get better [at] and that's the kind of guy I am. I like to move forward and learn different things and just try everything I can to get myself better."
The Orioles took notice of that commitment and improvement.
"You've heard me talk about those guys [ages] 28 to 32 years old starting to figure out things, and I think Welington fits into that category," Showalter said. "He's a young, strong, athletic, healthy guy. We're lucky we were able to work it out. … He's a very physical guy. You can tell he brings a lot of energy. He's a guy who likes to play.
"When you talk around baseball, there was a lot of competition for Welington's skills, and I'm real proud we were able to get him to help us and join the Orioles."
Castillo was a late addition to the free-agent market when the Diamondbacks did not offer him a contract for next season, his final year of being under team control. Arizona could not find a trade partner for Castillo, so the club nontendered him on Dec. 2.
"It wasn't easy for me and my family in the beginning, but now we have to move on," Castillo said. "I signed with the Orioles and that's what I'm looking forward to, to win. That's what I care about. And now I'm going to do my best and try to do everything I can to make this team better than it's already been. I'm really happy to be here with the Orioles."
The move allows the Orioles to have a veteran catcher for at least this season while top catching prospect Chance Sisco continues to develop. Giving Castillo a player option wasn't something the Orioles initially wanted to do, but they believed he had other clubs courting him, so "the terms were acceptable" in the words of Duquette.
"We took a long look at comparing all the catchers that were available on the market, and we liked Welington's skills, particularly what he's done the last couple years, and our projections look good on Welington," Duquette said. "As far as Matt Wieters goes, Matt did a good job for the club, he was a high draft pick and he came up through the system and he worked very hard and gave us terrific service, and we wish him well. But for our ballclub, we felt Welington was the best fit on the market."