As the Orioles continue their descent toward the basement in the AL East, let’s hope the warehouse wonders will know the right time to make deals with an eye on the future.
One obvious choice would be to bring up your top prospect from Triple-A to the big leagues, if the player currently in that position has trade value and isn’t signed beyond this season. It seems that this scenario might be a fit the Orioles, as catcher Welington Castillo is having a decent season, and Chance Sisco is their number one prospect.
Despite battling injuries that put him on the DL twice, Castillo has slugged eight homers in fewer than 200 at-bats to go with a .263 batting average and .729 OPS. He would likely use his player option to refuse the $7 million option for next year and become a free agent.
Sisco has recently rebounded after a difficult start both offensively and defensively this year and has improved at and behind the plate, showing that he is closer to being ready for his major-league debut.
His earlier issues with throwing out base stealers seem to be corrected after the coaching staff helped to adjust his footwork when preparing to throw out runners. After catching only seven attempted base thieves in the their first 49 attempts of the season, Sisco has since nailed seven more in 14 attempts for a respectable 33 percent success rate.
Over his past 31 games through Wednesday, Sisco’s batting average has increased from .239 to .276 and his OBP has risen from .323 to .351. During that stretch he is hitting .313/.379/.426.
Although not known as a power hitter – Chance has only hit 21 home runs in his professional career dating back to 2013 – he can drive the ball and has hit 17 doubles thus far this season. This puts him on pace for more than 30, which would eclipse his previous high of 28 last year with Bowie and Norfolk.
But even if Orioles brass decides to trade Castillo and bring up Sisco, they still need to find a willing trade partner. So which contending teams need catching help and could use the value that Castillo could bring? The answers may be few.
Presently, there are only five contending teams that have number one catchers struggling offensively – as measured by an OPS below .700 – Cleveland, Minnesota Washington, Arizona and Boston. And all of these teams have reasons not to trade for a catcher.
The Indians, Twins and Nationals all have spent big money on long-term deals with Yan Gomes/Roberto Perez, Jason Castro and Matt Wieters, respectively and are unlikely to give up on them for the stretch run.
Cleveland’s two catchers, Gomes and Perez, with OPSs of .684 and .517, respectively haven’t provided much for the defending AL champions. But Gomes is signed through 2019 and Perez 2020. They also have a top-catching prospect, Francisco Mejia, who is tearing it up with Double-A Akron –.339/.383./.555/.938 through Wednesday’s games.
Interestingly enough the Diamondbacks surprisingly released Castillo last off season. Jeff Mathis and Chris Iannetta have split time as Welington’s replacements and despite Mathis’ ugly .535 OPS, he’s a good glove man. Plus, the veteran Iannetta has eight dingers in 123 at-bats for an .826 OPS and could see more time behind the plate in the desert.
The Red Sox primary catcher, Sandy Leon, has had his luck from last season – a .392 BABIP, leading to a .310 batting average – fall back to expected norms and a .681 OPS. Coupled with the minor league struggles of Triple-A catcher Blake Swihart (.592 OPS), Boston could be the most likely to look for a new backstop.
However, Christian Vasquez has surprised this season, hitting .280 and taking away at-bats from Leon. But Castillo would have to be viewed as an improvement.
Milwaukee and Tampa Bay are two contenders who have recently added catchers, likely taking them out of the trade mix. The Brewers obtained Steven Vogt from the Oakland A’s, and Tampa Bay recently activated Wilson Ramos from the DL.
Another drawback to getting the best return for Castillo is that there are other catchers likely to be available via trade.
Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this week that the Rangers are open to trading free-agent-to-be Jonathan Lucroy, and the Tigers’ Alex Avila has been mentioned as a trade chip as Detroit falls further out of the race.
So it would likely take some creativity on the part of the Orioles’ front office to pull off a good deal involving Welington Castillo. But if the team doesn’t turn things around right after the all-star break, Duquette would be wise to try to move him to a true contender and see what Sisco can do as the Orioles number one catcher now and in the future.