Catcher Welington Castillo passed his physical and was officially announced as a member of the Orioles on Friday in a teleconference with local media.
Three things struck me about what was said by Castillo, manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette.
** Castillo mentioned several times about wanting to join a winner. He’s played seven seasons in the big leagues and has never been to the playoffs. He started in the Chicago Cubs’ system, was traded away in 2015 and then watched this year as several of the guys he came up with won World Series rings. So, at age 29, winning is paramount.
“(Baltimore) was my first option, honestly, because it is a great team with a lot of great players. You hear a lot of good things about Buck Showalter, the manager. And I want to win here,” Castillo said. “This is a team that’s been in the playoffs a couple of years. I think this team is going to be competitive. It’s going to be competing in the league. So, I want to be part of this when this team is going to be champions. I want to be a champion with the Orioles.”
A free-agent talking about wanting to win is nothing new in introductory press conferences. That’s the old standard. But it is kind of striking to hear someone talk about the Orioles as a likely and expected playoff team. Fans often don’t see it that way, but the Orioles have made the postseason three times in the past five years, while guys like Castillo haven’t. So, it really is a selling point for Baltimore now. Go figure.
** I’ve read and heard mixed reviews on the defensive part of Castillo’s game Some believe he is comparable to previous starter Matt Wieters. Others say he is below average, and has trouble with most defensive aspects besides throwing. We’ll see it for ourselves soon enough, but it was refreshing to hear Castillo talk frankly about his defense He was about to call himself a “really good” defender and then switched gears and said “pretty good.” He also talked about his pitch framing, which is all the rage these and something Castillo has not been good at in the past. He offered up that he was going to go to Puerto Rico this winter to work with Jose Molina – of the Great Catching Molinas – to work on his receiving skills.
“Honestly, I know my weaknesses, like the pitching framing and I’m going to be working on it with Jose Molina in Puerto Rico. Because I know myself and I never like to stop improving,” he said. “I know I still have a lot of room (for) improvement. I’m going to be working on it. I don’t feel like that I’m a bad defensive catcher, because that’s what I do behind the plate. But do I need to get better on it? Yes, every day there’s something to get better That’s the kind of guy that I am.”
** The signing of Castillo means that Wieters will not be behind the plate for the Orioles in 2017 for the first time since he debuted in the big leagues in May 2009. Showalter used the “never-say-never” line Friday, but we all know the reality. The Orioles will pay $6 million for Castillo in 2017 and $7 million in 2018 if Castillo picks up his player option. The Orioles still have competent backup Caleb Joseph under club control while prospect Chance Sisco waits in the wings. And that means Wieters, a free agent who likely won’t sign anywhere until January, isn’t coming back.
“Matt did a good job for the club. He was a high draft pick and he came up through the system and he worked very hard and gave us terrific service and we wish him well,” Duquette said. “But, for our ballclub, we felt Welington was the best fit on the market.”
Castillo is slightly younger, has comparable offensive numbers and likely is cheaper than Wieters. We’ll see how his leadership is, and that’s something that Wieters brought daily. I, for one, think the Orioles are going to miss Wieters’ intangibles more than they realize – similarly to Nick Markakis in 2015 – but, as Showalter intimated, this is a business.
“I think it is (tough) for everybody. Any time you are around somebody as much as we are … you get to know a person and his family, his kids,” Showalter said. “As many great things as Matt did for us, there were a lot of great things the organization and the city did for him and his family, too. So, I try to keep that in mind. It was a great relationship for everybody. I think everybody benefitted from it.”