The Orioles aren’t coming out and saying that they absolutely need to sign a catcher for 2017.
There’s still hope that Matt Wieters will return, but I think that has to be considered a longshot given what he’ll command financially and given my assumption that the Orioles aren’t opening their checkbook very wide this offseason.
By pining for a catcher this early, not only would they be saying the unofficial goodbye to Wieters, but they’d also be subtly telling Caleb Joseph that his disastrous offensive season in 2016 means he can’t be the full-time guy in 2017.
That may be the case, but advertising their interest in a catcher right now does not exactly send shockwaves of confidence throughout the organization. The Orioles need Joseph to have the mindset that he is going to be the guy, and they need backups Francisco Pena and Audry Perez to believe they have a shot to contribute, too.
Then there’s the Sisco factor. The organization’s top prospect is 21-year-old catcher Chance Sisco, who can flat-out hit. He’s batted .323 with a .402 on-base percentage in four minor league seasons, and he’s basically been the youngest player wherever he’s been.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette continually mentions Sisco – as he should – when he talks about the future of this club.
But it is really difficult to believe that future is April, 2017. Sisco doesn’t turn 22 until February. He has played four games above Double-A in his career. And, from what people I trust tell me, he is still raw behind the plate.
He has caught just 22 percent of would-be basestealers in his minor-league career. And everything is so much faster in the majors, including the players. Sisco has a lot of work to do refining his defensive game to be ready for the big leagues. That’s not saying he can’t be a solid defensive backstop eventually, but jumping him basically from Double-A to the majors because you have a need seems foolish – especially for a catcher.
Yet Sisco’s presence muddies the picture when it comes to pursuing a catcher this offseason. Ideally, the Orioles pick up a stop-gap veteran who is solid on both sides of the ball.
But with just about everyone needing catching help, getting a guy like that for one year seems unlikely.
The best fit, without a doubt, is Colorado’s Nick Hundley, who spent part of 2014 with the Orioles and performed well. Pitchers liked throwing to him, he got along well with Joseph and Wieters and he made a real connection with catching instructor John Russell.
The Orioles definitely have an interest in a reunion with Hundley, according to sources.
The 33-year-old batted .260 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs in 83 games in 2016, a season in which he missed a month due to a strained oblique.
The problem with Hundley (pictured above with the Rockies) is that the Orioles didn’t want to give him a two-year deal following the 2014 season. Now he’s older, has had some more nicks and bruises and still likely will command a multi-year deal on the open market.
It’s difficult to imagine the Orioles offering two years to him now, when they balked at that previously.
There are other names out there, but all are risks. Jason Castro is well-regarded as a smart, instinctive catcher, but he hit just .210 last year and had to battle for his starting job in Houston. And there appears to be a competitive market brewing for his services.
Chris Iannetta is another well-respected veteran, but he also hit .210 last year while playing in 94 games with Seattle.
Dioner Navarro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kurt Suzuki are available. So is Wilin Rosario, an offensive-minded catcher who played in Korea last year.
It’s not a strong market, which is why Wieters should thrive in it. And why Wilson Ramos will still get an impressive deal despite having knee surgery in October.
The Orioles are quietly looking for catching help now. And it will be a priority as the offseason continues.
They’ll land someone, but if they refuse to go beyond a one-year deal, their choices will be exceptionally limited in a limited market.