The December 2016 signing of Welington Castillo was one of the first of the offseason and indicated Dan Duquette’s firm decision that Beef was the man he wanted behind the plate this year. The team targeted Castillo soon after the Diamondbacks surprisingly non-tendered him two weeks earlier, making him a free agent.
And despite Castillo’s second trip to the disabled list this week, Duquette’s decision is paying off. Through Wednesday’s games, among AL catchers with at least 100 at-bats, Welington ranks first in batting average (.317) and third in OPS (.805).
He’s also played solid defense and handles the pitching staff to rave reviews from Buck Showalter. He’s thrown out 45 percent of would-be base stealers (10 of 22).
A bridge to Sisco?
With number one prospect, Chance Sisco, steadily climbing through the Orioles’ minor league system, it seemed that the team didn’t need to sign Castillo to a long-term deal. It was reported that he was seeking a three-year contract, but the Orioles didn’t want to make that long of a commitment given that Sisco is the team’s catcher of the near future.
But how near?
Sisco, 22, was coming off a strong 2016 season with Double-A Bowie, batting .319/.405/.423/.828. He finished the year playing four games with Triple-A Norfolk where he quickly slugged two home runs.
He seemed destined to be ready for the bigs by 2018, if not later this season.
But Sisco is struggling in Norfolk this year both at and behind the plate. He’s batting a mediocre .243/.316/.364/.680 and has struck out 44 times in just 140 at-bats. Last year he doubled that mark with 88, but those came in 426 ABs.
Defensively, his arm is being tested at a high rate. Already, 46 base runners have attempted to steal and the results aren’t good. He’s only thrown out seven, resulting in a poor 15 percent rate and putting into question if he needs more seasoning before being ready for the show.
An opt-out by any other name is still an opt-out
Unfortunately, that could put the Orioles in a difficult position, given that the two-year deal Castillo signed contains a player option for year two. He’s making $6 million this year and would be paid $7 million in 2018, if he chooses that route.
Given that his value is rising and assuming that continues, Castillo would likely be able to command much more than that on the open market. He could get that three-year deal he wanted and be one and done for the Birds.
The irony here is that Duquette and the Orioles had made it clear that they have an aversion to offering contracts with opt-outs, but giving a player option is essentially the same thing. Remember the reason the February 2016 deal with outfielder Dexter Fowler fell through was Fowler’s insistence that an opt-out be a part of it.
At the time Duquette said this about opt-outs, "I don’t see, club ownership doesn't see the value in that type of arrangement to the Orioles. If we are going to guarantee a contract, it should be a contract."
Regarding Castillo, Duquette may wish he had followed his own advice. Of course, he may have tried to sign him to a firm two-year deal and Castillo could have balked – wanting either three years or just one to have the opportunity to test the market.
And it looks like he will. And the Orioles will hope that Sisco finds his groove sooner than later.