While Welington Castillo’s decision to decline his $7-million player option to remain with the Orioles next season was expected, it was likely a more difficult one to arrive at than might be expected.
Even though Castillo put up big offensive numbers in his only season in Baltimore — he was one of just four catchers to post 20 homers and an .800 OPS — but he will now jump into an murky free-agent catching market that includes several quality veteran backstops but not many starting jobs.
Going into this offseason, most teams either already have their own established catchers behind the plate or are still committed to grooming their own young backstops. That doesn’t leave too many options for Castillo.
So many factors go into establishing a catcher’s value, and in recent years, more value has been placed on a catcher’s defensive acumen — the three-year, $24.5-million deal that elite pitch-framer Jason Castro signed with the Twins last offseason is a prime example — than offensive numbers. And while Castillo led the league with a 49.7 percent success rate for throwing out potential basestealers (the league average last year was 27 percent), he didn’t do too much to improve his sub-par reputation defensively. Castillo’s 5.60 catcher’s ERA ranked 29th in the majors.
While Castillo had a better offensive season than any other free agent catcher on the market, there are still some attractive options out there, like Jonathan Lucroy (four plus-3.0 WAR seasons in last six years) and Alex Avila (2.7 WAR in 2017). Castillo posted a 2.1 WAR last season, according to Baseball Reference.
Two factors will remain important to Castillo while choosing his next team — he’s been with four different clubs since the beginning of the 2015 season — and those will be playing time and playing for a contender. Castillo was irked when his playing time declined early in the second half of the season as Caleb Joseph saw more starts. And before playing for the Orioles, he hadn’t experienced the excitement of a playoff push before, even though that push fell well short with the team’s September collapse into the AL East cellar.
With all of that in mind, here are three possible landing spots for Castillo.
Oakland Athletics» The A’s are likely in need of a starting catcher more than any team in the major leagues, and Castillo might fit in here the best. As it stands, Bruce Maxwell — whose offseason includes an arrest for a gun charge last month — figures to get most of the at bats at the catcher position. Maxwell posted a 0.0 WAR in 76 games last season, so Castillo would be an upgrade no matter what, and since Maxwell is a left-handed hitter, it would be nice to add a right-handed power bat like Castillo’s. He’d be dealing with some young pitchers in Oakland, and it still seems to be a while until the A’s contend, but it could be a place where the well-traveled Castillo could finally plant roots.
Chicago White Sox » Castillo would be entering another rebuild situation on Chicago’s South Side by signing with the White Sox — but for a team that has lots of promise but plenty of growing pains to go through — they need a veteran starting catcher. The White Sox’s reboot suggests they won’t allocate a lot of financial resources to signing a catcher, but they do need an upgrade over Omar Narvaez and Kevan Smith, who combined for a 1.1 WAR last season. Again, this would not fit Castillo’s desire to play for a contender, but with the patience that could come by signing a multi-year deal with the White Sox could pay off in a couple years.
Colorado Rockies » The Rockies have made it clear that they would like to re-sign Lucroy, who posted an .865 OPS in 46 games and drew rave reviews handling a young pitching staff since arriving in Colorado in a trade with Texas. Lucroy appears to be a priority, but the Rockies have several other free agents to consider retaining, like former Orioles Mark Reynolds and left-handed reliever Jake McGee. And Lucroy’s stint in Colorado will only help his value on the free-agent market, so if the Rockies are unable to keep him, Castillo could be an option. And Castillo might jump at the chance to play in Colorado for a club that despite those losses is still poised to win in 2018 following MVP-contending seasons from Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon.