The Baltimore Orioles have considered venturing into the free agent market to find a veteran catcher for the 2019 season; Austin Wynns might represent a solution to their problem
Entering the 2018 season, the Baltimore Orioles had little intention of using Austin Wynns behind the plate in the majors. The Orioles added Wynns to the 40-man roster in November last year to protect him from eligibility in the Rule 5 draft, but he opened the season in Triple-A Norfolk and it felt like the O’s wanted to keep him there for the season.
In February, the Orioles acquired Andrew Susac to serve as their third catcher. And in the middle of May, when Caleb Joseph and Chance Sisco had started the year ice-cold, the Orioles turned to Susac to help bail them out; however, Susac provided zero relief.
Susac posted a .269 OPS, albeit in nine games with the Orioles, before being demoted just two weeks after his initial call-up. He would eventually suffer a broken wrist in Norfolk which would prematurely end his season.
After the Orioles sent Susac back to Triple-A in early June, they turned to the rookie Wynns rather than bring Joseph back up. Wynns was ineffective at the plate, at least initially. He hit .192/.192/.308 with just one homer and 10 strikeouts to 0 walks in ten games in June before being demoted in favor of Joseph.
The Orioles recalled Wynns just before the All-Star game and he remained in Baltimore for the duration of the season. From July 21st (his first appearance after being recalled) through the end of the season, Wynns posted a .274/.315/.405 slash line with 5 extra-base hits and 10 RBI in 91 plate appearances.
Unlike Sisco, Wynns hasn’t built his reputation at the plate. Wynns is an effective defensive catcher who could potentially have the talent to play at the major league level consistently, though he can at least hold his own with the bat.
Baseball Prospectus had Wynns with -2.3 Framing Runs in the majors last year, a number slightly below average but in a very small sample size. Wynns caught just 300.1 innings in 41 games for the Orioles in 2018 and allowed just 3 passed balls.
Based on what the Orioles need, Wynns could prove to be a solution for the 2019 squad. The Orioles will be focused on player development, and they’ll be looking to put the best possible defense on the diamond to help their young pitchers.
Considering what we saw from Sisco last year, he doesn’t exactly fit the bill. Plus, it seems like he could use some seasoning in Triple-A. Wynns, however, can potentially provide the defense the Orioles need while keeping up at the plate.
Wynns doesn’t have the veteran background the Orioles might be looking for but he has two things going for him: his familiarity with the pitchers in the organization, and his price. Wynns has worked with all of the pitchers on the staff, and it seems like having him continue to learn with these young pitchers would benefit everyone involved. And at the league minimum, there aren’t any cheaper alternatives to Wynns; the Orioles have him under team control for the next five years, including arbitration.
Right now, the options in the free agent market are slim; the Orioles would likely be choosing one of Martin Maldonado, Rene Rivera, Devin Mesoraco, Chris Stewart, or electing to re-sign Joseph. Wynns doesn’t necessarily have much upside; best case he’s likely an average major leaguer. But none of the free agent options present a significant upgrade over Wynns, and they’ll all be more expensive than him. It hardly makes sense to reach into that free agent pool for a starting catcher for 2019.
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However, wanting the Orioles to sign a veteran catcher as a backup to Wynns is understandable, and likely wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Orioles are quite thin behind the plate, especially considering that Susac could be one of the first players to go if the O’s need to make a roster cut. Relying on Wynns and Sisco, and potentially Susac, seems like a recipe for disaster heading into what will already be a tough season.
Bringing in a veteran to serve as a backup to Wynns might work. It’d provide stability should Wynns miss time, or should his offense fall off the table. And it’d be another veteran presence for Wynns to learn from. We know that he’s worked with ex-Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey, trying to become a better defender, and a smarter game-caller. Having a veteran presence in the clubhouse could absolutely help Wynns become a true, everyday big league catcher.
Tim Cossins should help with that as well. Hired just last week by Brandon Hyde, Cossins had worked in the Cubs organization as a minor league instructor, focusing on catchers, since 2012 before being hired by the Orioles last week. Cossins notably worked with Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini in Chicago.
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Ideally, Wynns will benefit from the guidance of Cossins, as will Sisco and Susac, should the latter remain on the roster. I’m all for paying the players as much as possible, but the cheapest route through 2019 for the Orioles is through Austin Wynns; it could also wind up being the most effective.