LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Orioles have been defined at the Winter Meetings as the team that needs multiple starting pitchers but won’t spend big on them, as well as a left-handed bat, and must decide whether to trade third baseman Manny Machado and closer Zach Britton in a rebuild-versus-reload tug of war.
One of the lesser subplots in this Disney drama revolves around the catchers. The Orioles believe they could use another one as insurance in case Chance Sisco needs to repeat Triple-A.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette confirmed previous reports of the team’s desire to bring in another catcher. The 40-man roster also includes Caleb Joseph and Austin Wynns, both respected for their work behind the plate. A veteran is a desirable pursuit.
A trade always is a possibility. Otherwise, here’s the list of free agent catchers as supplied by MLBTradeRumors.com:
Alex Avila (31)
A.J. Ellis (37)
Nick Hundley (34)
Jose Lobaton (33)
Raffy Lopez (30)
Jonathan Lucroy (32)
Miguel Montero (34)
Rene Rivera (34)
Carlos Ruiz (39)
Hector Sanchez (28)
Geovany Soto (35)
Chris Stewart (36)
Joseph and Sisco have options remaining to provide more flexibility. Joseph would appear to be a lock to come north with the team as it works to get him under contract in another arbitration year. His slash line improved from .174/.216/.197 with no home runs or RBIs over 49 games in 2016 to .256/.287/.413 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs over 89 games.
Joseph threw out 10 runners attempting to steal in each of the past two seasons, but in only 32 attempts (31 percent) last summer and in 55 attempts (18 percent) this year. The Orioles have no issues with his defense or how he handles the pitching staff, and he’s taken on a leadership role in the clubhouse.
The Orioles assigned Trey Mancini the locker beside Joseph at Camden Yards.
“I never asked, but I’ll always appreciate that they did put me where they did, next to Caleb, because he helped me tremendously, among other guys,” Mancini said last week on 105.7 The Fan. “Mark Trumbo helped me a lot, too, and most others. But, yeah, having Caleb right there, he’s the guy, especially since he was right next to me. I talked to him all the time.
“He’s like me. He played on every minor league team in the organization, so I can relate to him, we can relate to each other pretty well. He’s extremely helpful. His brother, Corban, actually, too. We played minor league ball together and he was the same exact way. He was almost like my mental coach a lot of times when I was at Bowie. The Joseph brothers, I don’t know what it is, but they know how to get through to you.”
Welington Castillo’s decision to decline his $7 million option and sign with the White Sox increased the urgency for another backstop.
“Caleb does a good job and he shows good leadership on the club,” Duquette said yesterday in his suite at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort. “When we lost Castillo we were hoping to re-sign Frankie Pena but he’s going to sign with somebody else, so we’re going to need to add more depth to our catching. That’s also something that’s on our shopping list.”
If it’s the offseason, it’s time for the Orioles to chase another left-handed reliever. They never seem to tire.
“That’s on our radar,” Duquette said. “We have one left-handed power reliever. The other relievers we have are more finesse from the left side, so if we can get a hard-throwing left-handed reliever, that’s something we’re looking at.”
Richard Bleier posted a 1.99 ERA this season in 57 appearances and would have to be a total disaster in spring training to be left behind. Duquette wants more of a power arm to complement him.
We’ll find out how it impacts Donnie Hart, another lefty who rode the shuttle to Triple-A Norfolk over the summer. He needs to get back into specialist mode after lefties batted .273 against him this year, compared to .132 in 2016.
Speaking of left-handed relievers, the Orioles could be interested in taking Austin Davis from the Phillies organization in Thursday morning’s Rule 5 draft that concludes the Winter Meetings.
Davis, a 6-foot-4 power lefty who turns 25 in February, was a combined 6-2 with a 2.60 ERA in 42 appearances with Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. He struck out 75 batters in 69 1/3 innings.
“We’ll take a look if there’s anybody there who can help us,” Duquette said.
Having outfielder Anthony Santander on the roster for at least the first 44 days of the season doesn’t preclude the Orioles from making a selection this week.
“That’s always a challenge,” Duquette said. “We do have an acute need for additional pitching. That’s one of those tradeoffs. How many guys can you have who aren’t established in the big leagues? How long can you go with that?”
The latest addition isn’t expected to be a starter. The Orioles will seek a reliever.
“That’s a big of a stretch,” Duquette said. “Johan Santana was very successful at that, right? He came from A-ball. That’s an outlier. What a terrific draft that was. But that’s rare thing.”