This is the final article of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each player currently on the Orioles roster.
The Birds spent a chunk of the offseason with zero catchers on their 40-man roster. Yet nobody expected any flashy moves at the backstop position, considering that top prospect Adley Rutschman is on the cusp of the majors.
There were bound to be low-level signings to supplement the position, because even Rutschman needs a backup. Accordingly, O’s general manager Mike Elias recently added a veteran presence to the mix. Catcher Robinson Chirinos was signed on March 14 to play a vital role on the ball club, especially early in the season. His deal is for one-year at $900,000, according to Spotrac.
Currently, Chirinos is the only catcher on the 40-man roster. The list of non-roster catchers presently in spring camp, on the other hand, is quite long. It includes Anthony Bemboom, Brett Cumberland, Maverick Handley, Jacob Nottingham, Cody Roberts, Beau Taylor, and the aforementioned Rutschman.
As far as the former No. 1 overall draft pick is concerned, fans will have to stay patient because he’s currently on the shelf with a sore arm and expected to miss a few weeks. That puts more attention on Chirinos, who is now penciled in as Baltimore’s starting catcher to begin the 2022 season. But he’s still just keeping the spot warm for Rutschman.
The 37-year-old Chirinos has been around. He debuted with the Rays all the way back in 2011, and this year marks his 11th major league season. The bulk of his career came in Texas, where he played for the Rangers from 2013-2018 and briefly in 2020. Other past employers include the Astros and the Mets, but most recently, he played on the North Side of Chicago.
In 45 games (112 plate appearances) last year with the Cubs, Chirinos hit .227/.324/.454 with five home runs, five doubles, one triple, and a .778 OPS. His OPS+ was slightly above average at 107.
Actually, Chirinos spent early 2021 in spring camp with the Yankees on a minor league contract. But he didn’t make their roster and played at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre until his release on July 4. The Cubs signed him the following day.
Over the course of his 10-year career, Chirinos owns a .231/.325/.432 slash line at the plate with a .757 OPS and an OPS+ of 100. While he doesn’t hit for average, Chirinos has shown pop. Every time he’s gotten more than 200 at-bats in a season (five times), he’s reached double digit home runs. His career high for home runs was 18, which came in 2018 with the Rangers.
In 2017 with the Rangers, Chirinos had arguably his best offensive season. He set personal career highs with his triple-slash line (.255/.360/.506), OPS (.866), and OPS+ (120). He also hit 17 dingers. In four years since then, Chirinos has a cumulative .750 OPS and a 97 OPS+.
Expectations at the plate now aren’t very high for the 37-year-old. But if Chirinos can maintain an OPS closer to .800 than .750, and maybe even reach double digits in home runs, that would be considered a good offensive season for him. For what it’s worth, Chirinos is a career .262/.311/.405 hitter in 13 games at Camden Yards.
And whether it’s fair or not, Chirinos is tied to Adley Rutschman. Assuming Rutschman makes it to the Show sometime this year, Chirinos is set to serve as his mentor and backup. He’ll get first shot at those roles at least.
So Chirinos will have to stay healthy and post up. Another big part of his job is guiding the young pitching staff. Both the Orioles’ rotation and bullpen were rocky last year to say the least. Whatever way the pitchers go this season while Chirinos is around, he will undoubtedly shoulder some or the credit, or some of the blame.
Defense behind the plate will be another point of emphasis. As recently as 2019, Chirinos had the third best defensive WAR (1.8) among American League position players, per Baseball Reference. But the past three years, that number has been -0.1, 0.0, and -0.2.
End-of-season prediction: With his age and player profile, it’s hard to see Chirinos finishing the year with the O’s. He’s here to keep the spot warm for Rutschman, then show the kid the ropes at some point in 2022. But Chirinos is making nearly a million dollars this season, and there’s a good chance Elias and company find a younger, cheaper alternative to pair with Rutschman behind the plate, meaning Chirinos likely won’t last the season in Baltimore.
Previously: Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Isaac Mattson, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Rougned Odor, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, D.L. Hall, Jahmai Jones, Bruce Zimmermann, Mike Baumann, Ryan McKenna, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin, Jorge López, Ramón Urías, Dillon Tate, Paul Fry, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells, Cole Sulser, Jorge Mateo, Tanner Scott, DJ Stewart, Ryan Mountcastle, Tyler Wells, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini, John Means, Cedric Mullins, Jordan Lyles