There were two aspects of the Orioles’ biggest free-agent signing this offseason, catcher Welington Castillo, that stood out. One wasn’t expected, but the other was. Both together could go a long way toward informing what the Orioles do for the rest of the winter.
Castillo’s contract, a one-year deal worth $6 million, has a $7 million option that he can exercise that could keep him in Baltimore for the 2018 season.
A year ago, as the Orioles were pursuing the likes of Chris Davis and Yoenis Cespedes, the team seemed to be at a disadvantage because it didn’t want to commit to long-term deals that include opt-out clauses. If the Orioles did, the player could leave for a better deal in the middle of the contract if he felt like he could get one, and the team would be on the hook for the whole thing if the player tanked.
That made the option in Castillo’s deal a bit of a surprise, but the stakes are different for a two-year commitment shrinking to one season versus, say, a seven-year contract cut short after three years. Executive vice president Dan Duquette said the team was comfortable with the terms.
“It sounded to me like Welington had some other options, some other teams that were interested in him based on his strong year this last season, and we were trying to find a solution,” Duquette said on a conference call announcing the deal Friday. “We weren’t looking for a long-term deal, and by that I mean over two years. We were looking for a shorter-term deal to give the club a little bit of time to evaluate some of our own people internally, and to develop some of the people that we have in our organization like Caleb Joseph, [Francisco] Pena and Chance Sisco.
"I think in listening to the player’s agent, that this was an attractive option for him because it gives him all of the incentive in the world to have a terrific year in 2017 and also gives him some comfort in knowing that he could extend it to a second year in 2018. The terms were acceptable to the club. That wasn’t our first option, but the terms were acceptable, and I think this will work out fine for both parties.”
Such logic makes a lot of sense for both sides, though it’s unclear if the Orioles are now in the business of structuring all of their deals in such a player-friendly way.
The second aspect that stood out is far from surprising. In a market where the top-paid free agent catcher so far, Jason Castro, signed a three-year deal worth $24.5 million with the Minnesota Twins on the basis of his defensive skills, leave it to the Orioles to see the player they view as the best offensive catcher on the market and pounce.
Some will argue that catcher defense isn’t valued enough, others that it's overvalued. The fact that pitch-framing stats are so liberally cited by even Luddites in the baseball media mean it's catching on, but it's hard to say how much it's all worth objectively.
It’s not exactly a below-market deal, as both the scouting and analytics communities agree there are some limitations to Castillo defensively, but his bat alone could be worth $6 million this year. Under the assumption one win costs around $8 million on the open market, Castillo will have to fall off a cliff offensively to not be worth it.
And truthfully, that will be the Orioles’ chief concern. Castillo noted that he wanted to be a good catcher for the Orioles, not just another bat in their lineup, but offense is his calling card. And as the Orioles look to fill their right field spot and maybe bring in another cheap designated hitter, keep that in mind. Defense can’t be completely discarded, but it might not be the priority they say it is. This is a team that’s built around its offense, and when looking for the final few pieces of the Orioles’ 2017 lineup, expect offense to be a priority over pretty much everything else.