When the Orioles announced Friday that they had designated catcher Francisco Pena for assignment to make room for pitcher Gabriel Ynoa, immediately the questions came pouring in on Twitter and to the web site.
The same thing happened earlier this week when it became public that new Orioles catcher Welington Castillo was going to play for his native Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, meaning he’d miss a crucial chunk of spring training, which was supposed to be spent learning the Orioles’ pitchers.
Throw in an ankle injury to minor leaguer Austin Wynns that will prohibit him from catching next week, and suddenly there’s a little mystery surrounding the Orioles’ catching cadre.
And some of you detectives out there are making the jump that all this means the club must be heading toward a deal with former catcher Matt Wieters, who is still without a job on Feb. 11.
It’s not a jump. It’s a Bob Beamon-esque leap.
I checked with several sources, and here’s the deal: There has been no recent momentum built between the Orioles and Wieters about a contract. It’s status quo.
Wieters would still like to return to the Orioles, but he and his agent, Scott Boras, are still searching for the best financial and team fit.
Certain members of the Orioles’ staff would love to have Wieters back for the right price, believing he is a better defensive catcher than Castillo and is an invaluable leader within the clubhouse. But others aren’t convinced that spending money on Wieters makes sense given there are other holes (rotation depth, defensive outfield upgrade) that need to be filled more immediately.
No one is officially ruling out the possibility of a return, but it still seems highly unlikely. That hasn’t changed recently.
Now, if majority owner Peter Angelos took a more active role in bringing back Wieters the way he did last year with Chris Davis, a new deal could be struck in a flash. But the Wieters’ situation is in the hands of executive vice president Dan Duquette, as it has been all offseason. And Duquette seems content with Castillo being the primary starter, despite uncertainty surrounding how he’ll mesh with the Orioles’ pitching staff. Castillo’s defensive game has lagged behind his offense during his career. and there’s no evidence that will change in 2017.
I’ve also been told that designating Pena for assignment has nothing to do with a potential open spot for Wieters. First, the Orioles aren’t convinced that Pena will be claimed on waivers. He’s 27, is out of options and a career .239 hitter in the minors. And he has never been outrighted before, so if he does clear, he’d have to stay with the organization. Therefore, there is a possibility he is back with the Orioles in the next few days.
In the meantime — or if Pena is claimed — the Orioles likely will just dip into their current system to find another catcher to help with spring training duties. The most likely candidate is Stuart Levy, who split time at Aberdeen and Delmarva last year.
If something happened to Castillo or backup Caleb Joseph before the season starts, the Orioles believe Audry Perez can play at the major-league level if top prospect Chance Sisco isn’t quite ready.
Yes, it still seems like it would be best for all involved if Wieters signed a one-year deal with the Orioles. He could spend another season hitting at Camden Yards while playing for a 2018 contract. He also could continue to tutor the Orioles’ younger pitchers, specifically Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, in what is a key season for both right-handers.
Wieters makes the Orioles a better team, and he’d get one more crack at playoff run with his original club instead of joining a struggling one like the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox or Tampa Bay Rays. And most Orioles’ fans would be happy if he returned; Wieters has been one of the more popular Orioles during the franchise’s resurgence.
The bottom line is that this will come down to the combination of the best financial deal and the best roster fit for Wieters and the team with which he eventually signs.
It’s not going to be accelerated by a World Baseball Classic commitment or the cutting of a third-string catcher.