26 June 2014

Orioles Could Use an Upgrade at Catcher, Should Consider Russell Martin

Losing Matt Wieters for the season was a devastating blow for the Orioles. He was playing fantastic baseball through the first month-plus of the season -- particularly at the plate (.308/.339/.500). Wieters will take about nine months to recover from Tommy John surgery and work his way back, which means he could be ready by the start of next season. It was not all that surprising when it was announced that he would need season-ending surgery, but the finality of it all still stung.

Without Wieters, though, the O's have done OK. They are four games above .500 at 40-36, are in second place in the AL East (trailing Toronto by 2.5 games), and are just one game back of the second wild card spot. And, unlike previous years, they aren't getting overly lucky; they have a +9 run differential -- not great, but fine -- and are 13-11 in one-run games. Considering how valuable Wieters is to the O's, it's impressive that they've hung around -- though the second wild card spot certainly makes that easier.

So the Orioles are down to three in-house options at catcher: Caleb Joseph, Nick Hundley, and Steve Clevenger. Dan Duquette recently said that the O's aren't looking to trade for another catcher, because "we've been able to transition from Matt as an everyday catcher to a tandem of Caleb and Nick Hundley during the season and remain competitive." So that's something. Still, Duquette is under no obligation to be honest about anything, especially when it comes to potential trades.

Joseph, who recently turned 28 and made his major league debut in May only a few days before Wieters played his last game of 2014, has received the majority of the time. Until recently, nearly all of Joseph's value has come from behind the plate instead of at it. He's thrown out 45% of runners on the basepaths so far, and he has an advantage over Hundley since he's been in the Orioles' system his entire career (since 2008) and is more familiar with much of the pitching staff. He had a batting line of .141/.235/.225 (.217 wOBA) in his first 83 plate appearances. But he hit his first major league home run against the Yankees on Sunday, hit another home run (and had three hits) on Monday, and now has a (better) batting line of .171/.264/.303 (.260 wOBA). But, yeah, that's still pretty bad.

The 30-year-old Hundley was acquired from the San Diego Padres on May 24 in exchange for left-handed reliever Troy Patton. Hundley has appeared in only 11 games for the Orioles, and he hasn't been good. He's batting just .162/.195/.189 (.174 wOBA) in 42 plate appearances and hasn't played well defensively either (caught just 17% of runners; FanGraphs and Baseball Reference both have him below average defensively). Really, Hundley had one good season in San Diego (in 2011) and has mostly been a somewhat useful player because of his defense. He has a career wOBA of .296 in 1,854 plate appearances.

The Orioles' best offensive option at catcher is probably Clevenger, who is currently the everyday catcher at Triple-A Norfolk. Clevenger won the backup catching job in spring training and stayed with the Orioles through late May, batting .243/.300/.378 (.295 wOBA) in 80 plate appearances. Defensively, Clevenger performed about average. Beyond this season, Clevenger and Joseph may battle for backup duties behind Wieters.


As noted above, the O's are clearly within striking distance of both a wild card spot and finishing first in the East. The real goal is obviously to win the division, and no team in the East appears to be that much better than the Orioles. One way to upgrade the roster would be for the Orioles to go after the Pirates' Russell Martin. It's worth wondering whether the Pirates would even be willing to move Martin in the first place. The Pirates are eight games back in the NL Central but only 3.5 back in the wild card. Surely they aren't ready to throw in the towel.

But if they get to that point in the next few weeks, Martin would be a clear improvement over Joseph, Hundley, and/or Clevenger. In 2014, Martin is batting .271/.415/.400 in 177 plate appearances. He's a career .256/.352/.396 hitter over nine seasons. And he's an elite defensive catcher.

Martin is in the last year of a two-year, $17 million contract. The Pirates may be reluctant to part with him because he's been so solid for them, and it's possible that they would extend him the qualifying offer after the season. If the O's were to trade for him, they wouldn't be able to make him the qualifying offer.

But a move for Martin would be a move for 2014. It would mean taking a chance on acquiring Martin to push for the playoffs and sacrificing some prospects. Jon thinks a trade for Martin could potentially include a package of Eduardo Rodriguez, Branden Kline, and Adrian Marin. That's a steep price for a rental. But if it means less of Joseph and Hundley and a better chance at making the playoffs, it could be worth a shot.

Stats and records as of June 25.


Anonymous said...

The Orioles are 1.5 games back of the Blue Jays and in the second wild card spot (or at least tied for it).

philip said...

So the Hundley trade was useless.
Patton had some value, and it was clearly wasted. Any idea why they did it?

German OsFan said...

just to get rid of a player who failed a drug test not only once but twice

Jon Shepherd said...

I would say that the Hundley deal was done because the team lacked MLB level depth at catcher while they had grown somewhat weary with Troy Patton who had a rough go of it this year in Baltimore.

In the end...both players really do not amount to all that much. End effect is that Matusz will be on the team through this season. Or if he or McFarland gets injured, we will see a second rate prospect dealt out for a southpaw.

Matt Perez said...

The Orioles did sign Rapada to a minor league deal a few weeks ago. If Matusz gets hurt or traded then they'd probably call Rapada up.

Joseph and Clevenger have been outperformed expectations while Hundley has drastically underperformed.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So Troy Patton has two bad outings this year and gets dumped. He's been a really solid arm for out of the bullpen the last two years.

That was a terrible trade. He's doing great for the Padres and Hundley sucks.

BTW, what your stats don't show is that Joseph's bat is getting better every week. He is a rookie after all with no previous big league experience.

He appears to have some really good power too - 3 HRs in 12 games now.

And I've noticed teams have stopped running on him at all. He's catching event he fastest stealers and they are out by a lot usually.

He's become one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. Even Weiters when he was a rookie struggled to throw out 20% of stealers and has never thrown out better than 45%.

No. I don't think we need another catcher.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

These aren't my stats. I didn't just make them up.

I have nothing to add about the Patton-Hundley trade. I don't think it's a big deal.

Joseph is a rookie with no previous big league experience for a reason. But that doesn't mean his defense hasn't been a welcome addition. Nearly all of his value right now is tied in his defense, and that's not a bad thing. I'm not sure where you got 12 games from; he's appeared in 33 games.

If his defense really is this good, then rolling with Joseph at catcher for the rest of the season isn't a terrible idea. But acquiring Russell Martin would be a clear upgrade, which is stated in the piece. Martin would present a clear improvement in about every offensive category, and he has a much longer track record of being a very good defensive catcher.