Looking at possible backup catchers for Orioles' Rutschman - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Looking at possible backup catchers for Orioles’ Rutschman

Photo Credit: MLB Photos via USA Today Sports

Despite the nearing expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement on December 1st, the free-agent market has been livelier than expected.

Most focused on the seven-year, $131 million extension the Toronto Blue Jays gave starter Jose Berrios and the five-year, $77 million deal the Detroit Tigers gave left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, a onetime Orioles prospect.

The Orioles weren’t going to be signing starting pitchers to those sorts of deals, but there was a more relevant contract that received little attention. The Atlanta Braves signed catcher Manny Piña to a two-year, $8 million contract with a $4 million option for 2024.

That’s relevant because Pina is the type of catcher the Orioles might have been considering to back up top prospect Adley Rutschman.

Earlier this month, the Orioles released Pedro Severino, who may have gotten a $3 million arbitration-induced salary in 2022 as a backup to Rutschman had the Orioles not cut ties with him. The $3 million price tag for a backup catcher was too high for the Orioles.

But it wasn’t for Atlanta. The Braves had previously extended Travis d’Arnaud with a two-year, $16 million deal and, happy with their World Series winning team, decided that they needed an upgrade to pair with him.

Piña sounded like an ideal candidate for the Orioles. He hit .189 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs in 75 games for the Milwaukee Brewers and is considered strong defensively. He had a .9 defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and threw out 30 percent (11 of 37) runners attempting to steal.

In 2021, Piña made a $1,650,000 and, at 34, must have been delighted to receive such an attractive offer.

The Orioles had three catchers on the 40-man roster at the end of the season: Severino, Austin Wynns and Nick Ciuffo. Currently, there are none, and there may not be any at any time this offseason.


Rutschman doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until he joins the 26-man roster, and the team could sign two catchers to minor league contracts, knowing that one or both could start the season with the Orioles, depending on whether the service time clauses change in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

If Piña’s deal is indicative of the market for backup catchers, and he’s played in more than half his team’s games only in 2017 and 2018, the Orioles might have to adjust their budget.

MLBTradeRumors.com lists 11 free-agent catchers. Three played for the Orioles last season: Severino, Wynns and Chance Sisco, whom the New York Mets released at the end of the season.

The others are Robinson Chirinos, Yan Gomes, Andrew Knapp, Sandy León, Roberto Perez, Wilson Ramos, Austin Romine and Kurt Suzuki.

The Orioles also will sift through the long list of minor league free agents, which includes Ciuffo and Taylor Davis, who was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates this week.

Davis signed as a minor league free agent with the Orioles before the 2020 season and was at the alternate site in Bowie. He remained in the organization this year and played 12 games for Triple-A Norfolk, catching just two before he was traded to Pittsburgh on June 15th for minor league outfielder Jose Berroa.

Manager Brandon Hyde was familiar with Davis, whose major league resume consists of just 22 games, 20 with the Chicago Cubs from 2017-2019 and two with the Pirates this past season. Hyde was a Cubs coach in 2017 and 2018.

Davis hasn’t had success throwing out runners. Each of the 14 runners who attempted to steal against him was successful, but perhaps he could return as a catcher at Norfolk.

Suzuki, who’s 38, could be a possible backup to Rutschman. In 2021, he made $1.5 million with the Los Angeles Angels, playing in 72 games, hitting .224 with six homers and 16 RBIs with a .636 OPS.

Would Suzuki, who has played 15 years with five teams, accept a backup role to Rutschman where he might play fewer games than he did in 2021?

Getting the right backup to Rutschman may be tricky. A veteran would have to be comfortable with all the attention that’s going to be focused on the rookie, let alone a role that could mean he plays just once or twice a week—unless Rutschman is an occasional designated hitter.

That backup also would have to realize he’s not going to play with a contending club in 2022, but it could be an ideal way for someone to extend a career.

León seems to be a possible fit. The 32-year-old is a career .212 hitter and last year hit just .183 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 83 games with Miami. In his 10-season career, León has thrown out 33 percent of runners trying to steal.

It seems likely the Orioles will find their extra catchers later rather than sooner. They hope that Piña’s contract doesn’t set a salary standard they can’t meet.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB





  1. Orioles20

    November 18, 2021 at 8:36 am

    Pina would’ve been the best option. Suzuki wouldn’t be terrible. Pitchers have said they love throwing to him and he calls a great game. I think jeff Mathis would be a great option too. Great defender. He can’t hit but if he’s just the backup who cares.

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 18, 2021 at 8:48 am

      Mathis didn’t play much this year, just three games. He’ll be 39 next year. Wouldn’t rule him out, nor would I rule him in.

  2. Boog Robinson Robinson

    November 18, 2021 at 8:39 am

    So Rich …ya think the “Orioles may have to adjust their budget” do you?

    I’m with you on this one.

  3. Phil770

    November 18, 2021 at 9:14 am

    Takes more than spending money, the Angels have spent money for years and have not sniffed being in contention.

    • markakis21

      November 18, 2021 at 10:01 am

      Also, looking at the bottom 10 payrolls in the league, 4 of them had 80+ wins. Oakland, Cleveland, Tampa, and Seattle. Seven of the top 10 payrolls had 80+ wins. Obviously a difference there, but not as drastic as people believe. Also let’s face it, no one should be allowed to spend as much as the Dodgers did. Put a cap somewhere around 200-220m (and a floor around 70m)

      • Birdman

        November 18, 2021 at 11:59 am

        Agree with your point that teams like Oakland and Tampa show that its possible for small- market teams to be competitive with a below average payroll … however, there is a huge difference between the $70 – $80 million payrolls that those teams operated with, and the Orioles miserly $20 – $25 million payroll.

  4. Olney Ogre

    November 18, 2021 at 9:16 am

    Jake Fox probably fits the Orioles budget

  5. markakis21

    November 18, 2021 at 9:57 am

    I don’t think that 3 million was too high for a backup catcher for them, it was just too high for Pedro Severino. 3 mil can get you a lot better.

  6. Buzz1979

    November 18, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Why they reigned Severino last year is still a mystery!

  7. Orial

    November 18, 2021 at 10:33 am

    Leon,Suzuki,Churinos,Romine,Perez. Any of those 3 and necessarilly in that order. I’m easy.

    • Orial

      November 18, 2021 at 3:35 pm

      NOT necessarily geesh.

  8. willmiranda

    November 18, 2021 at 11:11 am

    Imagine that! Having to spend Major League money for a Major League player! Perhaps it would help the medicine go down if the O’s thought of it as paying two players to cover the catcher’s position. Rutschman will be making a rookie salary, and the other player will be making the rest. It’s just amazing how ME & Co. can turn the arrival of a potential young All-Star into a problem. The beat goes on.

  9. Buzz1979

    November 18, 2021 at 11:43 am

    It all goes back to the Grinchelos family!

  10. Chuck in Edgewood

    November 18, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    Rich: do you think there is any possibility that Mavrick Handley gets an invite to Spring Training for an extended look? Will 2022 be the the O’s have to make a decision on him?

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 18, 2021 at 2:09 pm

      Chuck, the Orioles usually have as many as seven catchers in spring training because of the large number of pitchers on hand at the start, and Maverick Handley certainly could be one of them.

      He’ll be Rule 5 eligible a year from now.

  11. WorldlyView

    November 18, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    The Braves are paying $4 million a year for a catcher that hit .189 last year. Given the Orioles’ budget constraints, that suggests we need to look for a catcher with a batting average of .100 or less, or a better hitter hobbled by a seriously degraded throwing arm, bad knees, and failing eyesight. If there are no rules saying a team has to field a catcher, maybe we could just set up a large laundry basket behind home plate and save a lot of dough. There is no need to “adjust” upward the budget for players in a rebuilding decade.

  12. tomnov

    November 18, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    Orioles are too cheap to sign proven talent, and too bereft of leadership and development staff to draft and develop any..
    There is no longer any reason whatsoever to attend an Oriole game or watch on TV.
    I’d be happy to see the team leave town and convert the stadium into a permenent training facility for the Ravens, or else a museum.

    Nobody cares. Nobody should care.

    • CalsPals

      November 19, 2021 at 7:45 am

      Wow, obviously many do, including you, you’re reading this, never saw you post before, ouch….go O’s…

    • Georgia Oriole

      November 19, 2021 at 8:11 am

      Ok, bye.

  13. Icterus fan

    November 18, 2021 at 6:00 pm

    “Miserly” “cheap” “low budget” etc are common expressions in this thread and myriad others over this last few seasons.

    A naive question – why is that? I mean isn’t there bazillions of dollars in the coffers?
    If not, there is no hope for contention and we might as well just talk about the great years of the past, and our childhood Oriole memories.

    Second naive question – if there are shekels to spend, when will the wallet be opened?

    • WorldlyView

      November 18, 2021 at 10:09 pm

      Ict., One way to answer your questions is to go back several months when very smart commenters on this site were counseling patience, a lot of patience, for a rebuild that could not take place “overnight.” They assured us that the best way to turn a weakened Orioles team into long-term winners was to gradually reinvigorate the farm system and let the baby Birds bloom. They said that money should not be spent to field a decent interim team. Big name free agents allegedly would delay the promotions of the talented prospects being assembled by a super GM who eventually turned the Astros around through a slash and burn strategy. Furthermore, most of these same commentators were confident that ownership would throw open its wallet to sign a couple of big money FAs once the team approached competitiveness. Like many others, you probably don’t buy into this approach. Optimism does seem misplaced when the relative talent level of the O’s appears to be declining. But it is the happy way to address your concerns. The realistic way is to reluctantly accept the probability that we are in for a horrendous 2022, and to hope for a turnaround possibly beginning in 2024.

  14. dlgruber1

    November 18, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    I’m sorry, I just can’t get excited about next years O’s backup catcher. Personally, I think they should give Bret Cumberland a long look at the job. In my opinion he’s proven himself to be a player who has earned a chance to be on the big club, and if AR begins the season in the minors I’d look at him as a potential starter until AR arrives. Just because he’s young doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a look. There’s no rule I’m aware of that says you need a castoff veteran catcher on your club. Besides, I’m sure he’d be cheaper than said castoff veteran anyway so it would be a win-win. Why not?

    • Buzz1979

      November 18, 2021 at 9:01 pm

      Gotta love that .350 OBP!!!

  15. AkronOhioOriole1

    November 18, 2021 at 8:18 pm

    Get Buster Posey to come out of retirement for a couple years for 1.5 mil/yr.. Tell him he only needs to play twice a week and the Orioles will fly him in on game days. He can stay home the rest of the week. Boom, problem solved!

    • ClayDal

      November 19, 2021 at 2:49 am

      So what happens if Rutschman gets hurt during a game? Are they going to fly in Posey?

      • willmiranda

        November 19, 2021 at 11:39 am

        Adley, Posey, and pray for rain!

    • Icterus fan

      November 19, 2021 at 3:33 pm

      Buster coming to Baltimore.
      A real knee slapper, boys.

  16. Buzz1979

    November 18, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    If Jim Rice is a Hall Of Famer, Dick Allen certainly is!

  17. Bhoffman1

    November 19, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    Sad for the state of baseball when catchers who hit below 200 get millions and are considered excellent backups. This is not the baseball I grew up with. If you below 200 you were not on a big league club for long

    • Rich Dubroff

      November 19, 2021 at 6:45 pm

      Bruce, the game you and I grew up watching is no more. It’s totally unrecognizable. You’re going to have to enjoy what we have now because the game of the 60s, 70s and 80s isn’t coming back.

      • markakis21

        November 19, 2021 at 9:25 pm

        Baseball has always been changing. Fans who grew up watching 20s and 30s ball probably found the 60s and 70s to be very different from what they loved.

    • Icterus fan

      November 19, 2021 at 8:11 pm

      Bhoffman, I concur with your observations. It’s a sad but inescapable truth. And it’s not just baseball – this seems to be playing out across the social spectrum. And yet I can’t wait for the season to start.

      I am in sales in a skilled blue collar trade. Within the last 5 years or so, we have to coddle employees and praise them for simply doing their job, they now tend to expect lavish pay and you must almost overlook average performance and heap encouragement even when you are seeing marginal results. In my experience the employees seem to demand higher pay structures equal to management, but expect to have much much less responsibility and a huge safety net under them.

      Before you say that I am just a stay -off- my-lawn grump, let me say that I’m all for good pay for hard work and opportunity for all, but it must be results driven. Somebody is paying the bill.

      One thing is for certain- the only constant is change.

      • Tileman

        November 22, 2021 at 10:19 am

        As I was once told and learned very quickly “Never confuse effort with results”

    • markakis21

      November 19, 2021 at 9:25 pm


      Plenty of sub-.200 players have been around the league for many years, for the whole of baseball’s history. Since Rich mentioned the 60s, I thought I’d share this particular player. Mike Ryan was a backup catcher with a career average below .200.


      There’s also Frank Fernandez off the top of my head from that era. He was actually a pretty good player too! I’d rather have him behind the plate than Severino! He didn’t play as long as Ryan but 6 years is nothing to sneeze at.


    • CalsPals

      November 20, 2021 at 6:45 am

      One thing is for certain-the constant has been baseball…go O’s…

  18. Triandos 11

    November 22, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    I think Suzuki would be an excellent backup but not sure he would accept the terms.

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