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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Cam Gallagher

The Orioles need a better backup catcher for next year. They may have already brought in one competitor.

Cleveland Guardians v Kansas City Royals
Cam Gallagher in action with the Royals earlier this year.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

NOTE: The Orioles sent Gallagher outright to Triple-A Norfolk on 11/8. He is no longer on the Orioles 40-man roster.

How he arrived: Waiver claim from San Diego Padres, 9/11/22

Who left: Rico Garcia designated for assignment, 9/11/22

If Mike Elias could have peered into a crystal ball and known that the Orioles would be serious wild card contenders into the month of September this season, would he have done anything differently over this past offseason? A number of things that did not particularly seem like they would matter if the Orioles stumbled towards another 100+ loss season have ended up mattering.

One obvious answer to this question, for me, is that the Orioles could have done something different with Adley Rutschman’s backup catcher roster spot. Veteran Robinson Chirinos was signed to do whatever veteran things, impart some grand wisdom, be a good presence in the clubhouse, who knows. What the Orioles have gotten from him in terms of tangible statistics in the 2022 season is a .552 OPS and the single worst pitch framer in all of MLB, according to Statcast.

It’s a bad combination, especially over the last six weeks. This was not a decision that figured to matter all that much back before the season began. Now here we are, 140 games into the season, and the Orioles are 2-10 in the last 12 games in which Chirinos has started. That’s not entirely his fault, as he’s a staple of the “forfeit lineup” which includes other changes that seem to impact team offensive performance; the Orioles have scored two or fewer runs in seven of these ten losses. For the season overall, the team is 27-30 when Chirinos starts, including 15-17 in starts since Rutschman’s debut.

Earlier this week, the Orioles added another catcher to the 40-man roster mix. That’s Cam Gallagher, acquired by waiver claim from the Padres earlier this week. The Padres had acquired Gallagher from the Royals at the trade deadline for 27-year-old outfielder Brent Rooker, but did not use him at the MLB level before designating him for assignment.

The fact that Gallagher, 29, was traded for a not-particularly-young player who’s batted .200/.289/.379 in his big league career tells us what the rest of the league thinks about his value. He doesn’t have much! Which is probably why he went unclaimed by every team with a worse record than the Orioles once put on waivers, and why the Orioles didn’t even add him to their MLB roster even after claiming Gallagher this week. He’s been optioned to Norfolk.

Still, the Orioles chose to claim Gallagher for a reason. He seems like a decent candidate to, if not be the backup catcher next year, be a player who is part of the competition next spring training. Gallagher has now appeared in parts of six MLB seasons. Over that time, he has 469 total plate appearances, so it’s not like he plays much. He doesn’t hit much better than Chirinos (.656 career OPS) and is roughly league average at controlling the running game (25% caught stealing rate) but he’s shown much better capability in pitch framing than the current O’s backup.

Chirinos is -12 framing runs this season. Gallagher doesn’t show up in the 1000 pitch minimum Statcast sample for this season since he’s only appeared in 18 games, but in 2021 he was +2 framing runs in about 1000 pitches caught. For 2022, Rutschman grades at +2 framing runs over about twice as many pitches.

If Rutschman’s backup could catch like Rutschman, that’s a swing of at least a dozen runs, or more than one win just on its own. That’s all it takes. The Orioles are to the point where that kind of improvement on the margins is worth a lot to them. That’s especially true when considering a backup catcher. This is not going to take a high-dollar free agent signing, or a trade that will deplete the team’s prospect depth. This waiver claim or even a minor league free agent signing could do it.

According to RosterResource on FanGraphs, Gallagher is on his final minor league option in the 2022 season. Over the offseason, this doesn’t mean anything. It does mean the team would have to expose him to waivers at the end of spring training next year if he’s not going to make the big league club. If the reason for that is because they’ve found a better backup catcher option, that probably won’t bother them too much.

Still to come: That’s all, for now