Robinson Chirinos came to Baltimore as a 10-year veteran destined to back up Adley Rutschman. Many speculated that the Orioles would hold Rutschman in the minors long enough to manipulate his service time, but an injury prevented the rookie’s long-awaited debut until May 21.
The Orioles briefly went without a catcher on the 40-man roster before signing Chirinos to a major-league contract. Chirinos agreed to a one-year deal worth $900,000 with an opportunity to earn an extra $75,000 with incentives. The backstop could have earned an additional $100,000 if he played well enough to be traded during the season.
Experience and a major-league contract all but guaranteed his inclusion on the opening day roster. With Rutschman unavailable, the Orioles went with Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom to start the season.
Bemboom struggled at the plate for the duration of his tenure with the Orioles. The 32-year-old slashed a piteous .115/.207./.212 in 52 at bats while serving as a backup to Chirinos. The Orioles eventually designated Bemboom for assignment but he did clear waivers. Baltimore selected Bemboom’s contract last week to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent.
Chirinos hit at least 17 home runs from 2017-2019, but the righty failed to provide much pop as a backup for the Mets and Cubs before joining the Orioles. Needless to say, he failed to rediscover his power with the O’s.
Chirinos finished the season with a .179/.265/.287 slash line. He hit four homers, drove in 22 runs and struck out 67 times in 220 at bats. Unfortunately, he struggled behind the plate too.
Chirinos ranked 60th (that’s dead last for those keeping score at home) in Baseball Savant’s catcher framing leaderboard. Chirinos posted a -14 catcher framing runs and was the only backstop with a strike rate below 40%. For comparison, Adley Rutschman ranked 11th with a +4 in catcher framing runs and a 49.6% strike rate.
Rutschman became the starting catcher the day he joined the team, but rough play from Chrinos may have caused the O’s to play the rookie even more than they preferred. Chirinos became a fixture in the patented forfeit lineup and represented a nearly automatic out aside from a seven-game stretch in August when he hit .400/.478/.550.
To his credit, Chirinos joined Rougned Odor as a veteran who received constant praise for the intangibles he brought to the clubhouse. The Orioles celebrated Chirinos when he reached 10 years of major league service time in September. Brandon Hyde said he was extremely thankful that Chirinos “helped change the culture of this team.”
"I couldn't do it without you guys... Thank you for all the memories, and the ones coming, because we're not done yet!" - Robbie pic.twitter.com/7GKdfcY7zZ— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 3, 2022
Before signing Chirinos, the Orioles declined to explore a reunion with 2021 catchers Austin Wynns and Pedro Severino. Severino struggled defensively but did slash .248/.308/.383 in his final year with the Birds. Wynns scuffled through 45 games for the O’s with a .185/.232/.308 line.
Wynns emerged as a quality backup for the Giants in 2022. The 31-year-old slashed .259/.313/.358 over 45 games in San Francisco. Severino signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee but was suspended 80 games for a violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy. He went 4-for-18 in eight games for the Brewers before the club designated him for assignment in early August.
Backup catchers rarely shine at the plate, but Chirinos started for nearly two months. There are plenty of “what-if’s” after a season, but it’s fair to wonder how a healthy Rutschman would have impacted the club in April and May.
The Orioles are not expected to reunite with Chirinos in 2023. The Birds do not have another generational talent waiting to debut next season, so they will likely look outside of the organization for Rustschman’s next backup. Bemboom and former waiver claim Cam Gallagher will provide depth, but the O’s will likely seek out more production from the position if they plan to compete moving forward.
Chirinos will turn 39 next June and he has yet to fully commit to playing another season. He said in September that his body felt good, but that it was “something to consider after the season.” Chirinos did say that he “would love to come back and keep growing with this team.”
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