The Orioles reached an agreement with free-agent catcher Welington Castillo on Wednesday, according to an industry source.
The team hopes Castillo provides the backstop that will bridge the gap to prospect Chance Sisco after the departure of longtime starter Matt Wieters without losing much production in the interim.
The deal, which is pending a club physical, guarantees Castillo $6 million for the 2017 season and includes a player option for $7 million for the 2018 season.
Castillo, 29, spent the 2016 season as the primary catcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, batting .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs and 68 RBIs in 113 games. However, under the Diamondbacks’ new management this offseason, he was not tendered a contract and became a free agent.
Immediately, Castillo joined the top tier of the catching market and drew the Orioles’ eye. A career .255 hitter with a .734 OPS and 60 home runs over parts of seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks, Castillo’s production has been somewhat skewed by his nomadic past.
He first got a chance to be a full-time starter for the Cubs in 2013, and spent two seasons in that role before he was dealt to the Mariners in May 2015. Barely two weeks later, Seattle flipped him to Arizona in a deal that included future Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo.
Despite a good season with the Diamondbacks, an emphasis on pitch-framing metrics caused the club to go in another direction. Castillo’s greatest defensive asset is his arm. He threw out 24 of 64 would-be base stealers in 2016, good for a career-high 38 percent caught-stealing rate. On his career, he has thrown out 31 percent of runners.
His primary appeal, however, is his bat. Castillo represents an established, offensively capable option on the roster to join incumbents Caleb Joseph and Francisco Pena, as the team moves toward a future they hope involves Sisco as their starting catcher. Sisco spent 2016 primarily in Double-A, batting .320/.406/.422 with Bowie before swatting two home runs in the final four games of the season after a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk.
He’s viewed as the catcher of the future in the organization, though he’s far closer to ready offensively than defensively, and likely will need another year of seasoning. Even if he’s ready for 2018 and Castillo exercises the option, which was seen as necessary for a deal to be completed, the team could have quite an offensive duo behind the plate going forward.
For 2017, however, Castillo will likely share time with Joseph. Pena will compete for a spot in spring training, but is out of minor league options and must be exposed to waivers if the Orioles want to send him to Triple-A Norfolk. In 2016, Joseph struggled with inconsistent playing time and injury en route to batting .174 without a home run or an RBI in 49 games.
At the team’s holiday party Tuesday, Joseph said the team bringing in another catcher wouldn’t impact his preparation. Anyone in his position prepares for a 130-game workload that leads to postseason baseball, Joseph said.
“Whatever role that is, I’m willing to suit up and go with it,” Joseph said.
FanRag Sports first reported the agreement with Castillo.
Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.