The Baltimore Orioles have gone 30-21 since the start of June and sit at .500 despite an issue that has plagued many teams in similar stages of their proverbial window: a near-total lack of production from their bench. Outfielder Ryan McKenna (0.9 fWAR) is the only Oriole substitute that has contributed value over replacement level this season. The cumulative fWAR from all bench players? -2.7. Needless to say, it’s not a pretty situation.
The backup catcher role has been a constant issue which has only been magnified since Adley Rutschman assumed the starting position. Of 81 MLB catchers with 30 or more plate appearances, Robinson Chirinos and his -1.4 fWAR ranks 81st. Anthony Bemboom provides slightly more defensive value than Chirinos but was below replacement level during his brief cameo in Baltimore.
A young, cost-controlled backup would be an ideal option if GM Mike Elias is seeking to upgrade the club without hemorrhaging prospects, specifically one that can help pitchers with their framing acumen and could keep runners honest with their throwing arm. Here’s three Catchers who fit the mold:
The Baltimore Orioles could benefit greatly from an upgrade at the backup Catcher position.
Brian Serven – Colorado Rockies
It’s hard to gauge where the Rockies think they are or what they’re doing most of the time, and a team that just extended their 38-year-old closer might not be compelled to trade any Major League players. The Orioles would be remiss if they didn’t kick the tires on Serven, though.
The 27 year old rookie managed just a .245/.318/.429 slash line in the minor leagues and will likely never be counted on for his bat, he more than makes up for it with his pitch framing. Serven ranks 27th among qualified Catchers with 1 framing run above average, which is based upon how many balls outside the zone are called strikes.
His throwing arm is below average but could potentially more effective if he could shave a few hundredths of a second off of his glove-to-hand transfer time. Perhaps George Russell could show him a thing or two about finding extra fractions of a second.
Jose Herrera – Arizona Diamondbacks
Two things stick out the most when looking at the 25-year-old Herrera’s profile: plate discipline and a remarkable throwing arm. Regarding the former, Herrera boasts a career .346 OBP and 13.5% walk rate in the minors and while the walk rate is just 7.7% for the D-Backs, the sample size is still too small from which to draw conclusions.
As far as defense is concerned, Herrera is an average to below average framer (34th of 60 qualified backstops in Catcher Framing Runs), but boasts a cannon of a right arm, throwing out 12 of 28 potential base thieves. His 1.93 second average pop time (time between the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt to hitting the fielder’s glove) to second base ranks 10th out of 75 backstops with at least five attempts, which is elite in its own right and would only be a marginal dip from Rutschman when he’s given a rest day or shifted to DH to spare his legs.
Eric Haase – Detroit Tigers
There’s some O’s in this Haase! (sorry)
Eric Haase (29) is slightly older than the aforementioned options, but has a lot working for him. He’s under team control until 2027 and has one more year making the minimum before hitting arbitration in 2024. Additionally, the dude can hit. More specifically, the dude can hit bombs.
22 balls left the park courtesy of Haase’s bat last season and he’s hit 8 so far this year in 198 plate appearances. He’s a bit of a YOLO swinger, however, with a career K rate of nearly 30% and a walk rate just below 7%. Haase likely won’t cost his team a game but is a below average framer, though his pop time to second lands him in the 63rd percentile of qualified catchers.
Which backstop is the best option for the Baltimore Orioles?
Serven would likely be the most available and cheapest to acquire, but is less proficient than the other two options. Looking through the prism of defense, Herrera is far and away the best choice. Haase would be the preferred option given his offensive ability, but would likely cost the most and may not even be available if the Tigers let Tucker Barnhart leave via free agency and want him as a bridge to top prospect Dillon Dingler. He’s also gained a larger share of catching duties for the Tigers as of late. That being said, Elias and the Baltimore Orioles front office should give it a shot.