The Orioles’ quest for catching depth produced some of the wackiest offseason headlines. The Birds apparently made it their mission to compile as many catchers as possible, and at one point Baltimore had six (6!) catchers on the 40-man roster.
The peak of the story came when the Orioles claimed not one, but two Cincinnati catchers on the same day. The Reds elected to move on from Aramis Garcia and Mark Kolozsvary, but Baltimore said come on down!
This all took place at the beginning of the offseason before Baltimore needed to protect players from the Rule 5 draft. Robinson Chirinos quickly became a free agent when the league year ended, and the other dominoes fell shortly after.
The Birds waived Cam Gallagher on November 8 and the backstop elected minor-league free agency. Garcia chose free agency and signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies, while Kolozsvary eventually made his way to Norfolk.
Baltimore appeared to put a bow on the process when it traded for James McCann, but another backstop managed to outlast the chaos and join McCann and Adley Rutschman on the roster.
The Orioles signed Anthony Bemboom to a split contract and added him to the 40-man roster following the 2022 season. Baltimore outrighted the backstop a month later but still invited him to spring training.
McCann opened the door for Bemboom when he suffered an oblique strain in Sarasota. Bemboom broke camp as the backup catcher on Opening Day for the second consecutive year, but McCann’s impending return appeared to place a ticking clock on Bemboom’s time in the bigs.
To the surprise of many, Bemboom’s staying power outlasted McCann’s return. The Orioles joined Cleveland, Houston and Seattle as American League teams carrying three catchers. Houston holds extra room on its bench with injuries to Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley, while Seattle feels it has three catchers that bring something different to the mix.
Cleveland designated Mike Zunino as its starter but hoped to slow play the former All Star after he missed a majority of last season. Carrying three backstops allows Cleveland to fully rest Zunino during his off days without the risk of needing him late in games.
The Orioles have the exact opposite approach with current starter and future All Star Adley Rutschman. Baltimore pencils Rutschman into the lineup as often as possible and routinely uses the 25-year-old as the designated hitter if he is not behind the plate. A third catcher can provide extra rest for the franchise player, but the Orioles do not share the same needs with Rutschman. However, McCann remains less of a sure thing.
The Mets sent McCann and a large portion of his salary to Baltimore after signing Omar Narváez. McCann struggled last season and missed time for multiple injuries. The Orioles like his veteran presence and ability to hit lefties, but they will likely take a cautious approach when reintroducing him to the bigs.
Baltimore’s surplus of players with defensive versatility reduces the burden of carrying a third catcher. Ryan McKenna, Terrin Vavra and Adam Frazier all serve as outfield depth, and both Frazier and Vavra add to an infield that already includes Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías.
MLB roster regulations prevent Baltimore from carrying an extra reliever, so the third catcher actually makes sense here. Keeping Kyle Stowers on the roster would not have guaranteed him every day at bats. Fair or not, Baltimore’s qualms with Stowers facing lefties are unrelated to Anthony Bemboom.
Bemboom does not possess a minor league option, so the Orioles would need to designate him for assignment if they were to remove him from the roster. It remains to be seen whether another team could submit a claim, but losing Bemboom would reduce the catching depth to Kolozsvary and 25-year-old Maverick Handley.
The situation will likely last until McCann proves he’s healthy, or the Orioles believe they can sneak Bemboom through waivers. Baltimore still lacks a true backup at first base. The team could use McCann in that role, or could eventually turn to Josh Lester, Ryan O’Hearn or Lewin Díaz. The Orioles needed Bemboom at the beginning of the season, so he could not have been sacrificed to keep Franchy Cordero in the system.
Baltimore will likely recall Stowers at some point this season. Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz are waiting at Norfolk, and Colton Cowser should factor in by the dog days of summer. Bemboom ranks below any of these players on the priority level, but Baltimore could easily option Vavra, McKenna or another 26-man occupant based on performance.
The Orioles have enough positional depth on the roster to carry a third catcher for as long as they wish. Bemboom can help himself by playing well defensively and providing the occasional spark at the plate, but he may stick around longer than anyone anticipated.