Adley Rutschman has been coming for a few years now, but until that day arrives, the Orioles have had to make do with stopgap plans at catcher.
In previous seasons, they found a plan that worked. In 2021, however, the plan soured.
Baltimore’s tandem behind the plate of Pedro Severino and Austin Wynns was...well, pretty much anemic. The two combined to play 141 of the 162 games behind the plate, and neither gave the Orioles much of anything in their opportunities. Severino batted .248 in 379 at-bats, but had his lowest on-base percentage (.308) and slugging percentage (.383) of his three-year Baltimore tenure.
Wynns, meanwhile, batted .185 with a .540 OPS in 130 at-bats, even if he did bring defensive upside while throwing out 11 of 29 base stealers, a 38 percent clip. With Severino and Wynns getting the vast bulk of the playing time, Orioles catchers ranked fifth-worst in Major League Baseball in WAR (-1.5), and ninth-worst in OPS (.635).
This marked a slip in play at the position from a level that, all things considered (money invested, quality of the team, etc.) was pretty good. In 2019, Severino looked like a true find with a .249 average but a .740 OPS. And in 2020, Severino dipped to a .710 OPS while his average (.250) remained essentially the same, but his minor slip was helped by the fact that he shared the position with Chance Sisco, who had a .364 on-base percentage and .741 OPS while playing solid defense.
This year, catcher was a hole in the roster. Sisco started with the team but batted .154 with an awful .431 OPS before getting the boot. Wynns played fine defense but couldn’t hit, and with him opting for free agency rather than an outright assignment to Norfolk, his time with the team may be over.
And while Severino’s bat cooled before heating up at the end of the season (17 for his last 51, .333 average), his defense was even more troubling. His caught stealing percentage fell from 31 to 23 percent, and he was called out several times by Orioles broadcasters for his struggles with framing and blocking pitches and helping out an already struggling pitching staff. He had 10 passed balls, leading the American League for the second straight season.
It was a frustrating season for the 28-year-old, who as the Baltimore Sun mentioned had carved out a role for himself on the team since coming over as a waiver pickup from the Nationals during spring training of 2019. He had played the second-most games for the Orioles since Opening Day 2019 behind only Trey Mancini, and he had given the team plenty of offensive return for the investment, providing the important service of taking care of a position that had a franchise player coming but needed someone for the interim.
This coming season, however, Rutschman is expected to be with the team either on Opening Day or shortly after - the Sun said he’s “not far” from his arrival - and so the need for an everyday catcher is not nearly as pressing.
That being said, the O’s could elect to give Rutschman all the time he needs and go with a catching stopgap once again, one who will then become a solid backup once the No. 1 prospect makes his debut, and if so, the door would seem open for Severino to stick around.
The issue is money. Severino made $1.825 million last year, and is eligible for arbitration this season. If his number climbs over $3 million, as that article from the Sun suggests could be the case, the Orioles could figure that number to be too steep for a catcher who might only temporarily start, and whose numbers on offense were trending down anyway.
If that is the case and Severino moves on, he deserves credit for going from waiver pickup to giving the team three seasons as a capable starter. His bat was inconsistent but for stretches could be middle-of-the-lineup caliber, which is likely all the O’s could have hoped for when they signed him. But it is a new day in Baltimore, and Rutschman’s day grows near, the Orioles could be looking at a change.
Previous 2021 Orioles player reviews: Valaika/Gutierrez/Mateo, Paul Fry/César Valdez, Watkins/Greene/etc., Ramón Urias, Dean Kremer, Tanner Scott, DJ Stewart, Tyler Wells, Anthony Santander, Cole Sulser, Bruce Zimmermann, Austin Hays
Tomorrow: Dillon Tate