According to an industry source, Orioles have reached an agreement with free-agent catcher Welington Castillo. (Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles' pending acquisition of catcher Welington Castillo – who agreed to a one-year deal that included a player option for 2018 that guarantees him $13 million – was the proactive kind of move the club hasn't made in recent seasons.
It also officially marks the end of the Matt Wieters era in Baltimore.
Wieters -- the team's homegrown cornerstone backstop -- was also a free agent this offseason. And even though he was unlikely to return for 2018 and beyond, it was still a possibility if the team was willing to wait until later in the offseason.
Wieters' agent, Scott Boras, indicated that Wieters might not sign until January. And that seemed to traditionally be more the Orioles' style -- to wait out the market and see if his price tag went down.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette indicated he wasn't going to wait until January to find a starting catcher. Castillo was the team's top target all along, and if they were able to get a cost-effective deal to sign him, why wait?
Castillo's base salary next season will be $6 million, which is right around what he was projected to make through the arbitration process. It allows Castillo to test the free-agent market again after the season, but also offers the protection of a $7 million player option for 2018.
One thing Duquette is great at is offering the platform deal. He did it before the 2014 season in signing Nelson Cruz during spring training. He did it early last offseason in acquiring Mark Trumbo for his walk year in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. And now he has done it again with Castillo, offering him the opportunity to have a career year as part of a power-packed batting order in a hitter-friendly park.
While the move does spell the end for Wieters, the acquisition puts the Orioles in a better position for the future. Top prospect Chance Sisco is waiting in the wings, and a shorter-term deal won't block his ascension.
Meanwhile, the Orioles accomplished their offseason goal of staffing the catching position at a lower cost. The club paid $15.8 million to Wieters last year when he accepted the Orioles' one-year qualifying offer, and Wieters' 1.7 wins above replacement (WAR) last season ranked 16th among major league catchers.
By comparison, Castillo posted a better WAR (2.4) than Wieters last season, including a better defensive WAR (1.4 to 1.1) and threw out base stealers at a more successful clip – 38 percent to 35 percent.
Filling a starting catching spot might be one of the most difficult things to do. That's why most high-end catchers are either homegrown and paid a lot of money to stay – like Buster Posey or Yadier Molina – or are bought on the free-agent market at a premium, like Russell Martin or Brian McCann. Most of the latter don't work out, and the Orioles avoided going that route by bringing in Castillo.
Yes, the Orioles did guarantee Castillo money for 2018, but nothing beyond. Signing catchers to long-term deals once they get close to age 30 is always risky.
The Minnesota Twins' eight-year, $184 million extension with Joe Mauer to pay him through his age-35 season is a lesson to every team. The life expectancy for catchers is unpredictable, the wear and tear of the position too great. And by the time their deal with Mauer is complete, the Twins will have paid him five years to play at first base without the corner-infield offensive production.
Regardless, at this point – with the looming free agency of Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Adam Jones after the 2018 season – the Orioles shouldn't be locking up long-term contracts on players who aren't considered part of their extended future.
Whether Sisco is ready to assume the starting catcher position this time next year or not, the Orioles can now wait for that question to answer itself through 2017 knowing they signed their primary target all along, filling their biggest offseason need by the end of the calendar year.
And if Caleb Joseph returns to form offensively after a miserable 2016 season, it's an added plus.