For now, the Orioles' catching search seems to be squarely focused on free-agent Welington Castillo, which shouldn't be surprising. If they're not going to wait out Matt Wieters, hoping his price comes down, Castillo is the best catcher available in an unremarkable free-agent catcher market.
The Orioles were surprised when Castillo was nontendered by the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this month. He was projected to make $5.9 million in his third arbitration-eligible year, a price deemed too steep by the Diamondbacks.
Still, it was a confusing move, because Castillo has plenty of market value, even if not in an Arizona uniform. So the fact that the Diamondbacks didn't tender him a deal and then attempt to trade him was peculiar.
Castillo is the winner, not only because he became a free agent sooner, but also because he gets to choose his landing spot after playing for three organizations over the past two years.
The Orioles have made it clear they need someone to serve as a stopgap until top prospect Chance Sisco is ready to take over at catcher. Sisco's bat is almost there, but he still needs to make progress as a catcher before the team trusts him with handling a pitching staff.
Castillo is seeking a three-year deal. That's what Orioles manager Buck Showalter indicated at the end of his winter meetings media session Wednesday, which makes Castillo more of an investment than a short-term fix.
Still, take away Wieters and Castillo is the top offensive catcher available. He hit .264/.322/.423 with 14 homers and 68 RBIs in a career-high 457 plate appearances. Castillo also struck out 121 times.
He hit 19 homers in 104 games two seasons ago, when he played for three different teams – the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Diamondbacks. He was part of the trade that sent Mark Trumbo from Arizona to Seattle on June 3, 2015. In 80 games with Arizona, he hit 17 homers and posted an .813 OPS.
So Castillo's offensive numbers are comparable to Wieters' over the past two seasons, and Castillo actually owns a higher OPS (.747) than Wieters (.723) over that span.
Castillo also threw out 24 of 64 base runners last season for a 38 percent success rate that exceeded the 28 percent league average. By comparison, Wieters threw out 23 of 66 for a 35 percent success rate, though his 33 percent career mark is slightly better than Castillo's 31 percent.
Continuing to compare Castillo and Wieters, both have their defensive concerns. Wieters is a two-time Gold Glove winner and a four-time All-Star, but last season committed 11 errors, most by any catcher in the majors, and battled with some balls in the dirt.
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Castillo tied for the National League lead with 10 passed balls, which is a startling number, and his seven errors were tied for fourth most among NL catchers.
Castillo has struggled with pitch framing metrics, which Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said this week the team will take into consideration when acquiring a new catcher. Caleb Joseph marks well in pitch framing – the 2.7 runs above average (RAA), according to StatCorner, ranked seventh best in the AL. But Wieters was among the bottom 10 AL catchers in RAA with minus-7.3.
While pitch framing is important, it's just one aspect of catching – Gold Glove winner Salvador Perez's RAA was last among AL catchers last season.
This past season, Castillo's minus-3.2 RAA was significantly better than Wieters' mark. He showed marked improvement the past two years, because in 2013 and 2014, Castillo ranked among the bottom three catchers in baseball in pitch framing.
So while the Orioles want the best all-around catcher available — and Castillo likely fits that bill — the team will have to weigh how it balances the value of offense against defense, especially if considering a three-year deal. Even though it's not a huge contract, they have to consider how a longer commitment could affect future spending.
They paid Wieters $15.8 million last season, so they want keep the catching position one of comparative value. That won't be too difficult given that Joseph is projected to make $1 million in his first arbitration-eligible year. So Castillo could still be signed to a good deal, but teams must be wary about giving catchers longer-term deals once they reach 30, which Castillo does in April (and Wieters has already reached).