In 2015, Caleb Joseph had the fourth most RBIs on the Orioles. A year later, he had the least.
By now, everyone knows that Joseph had a horrible offensive season with not a single RBI.
With Matt Wieters returning to his fulltime role, a drop in Joseph’s offensive production was to be expected. He wasn’t going to play 100 games as he did in 2015—with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs.
But, Joseph who played in 49 games, didn’t show any offense at all.
His defense wasn’t awful and still threw out 31 percent of the runners attempting to steal, and seven of those 22 successful steals came in Ubaldo Jimenez’s first four starts of the season.
Joseph’s season was marred by the scary testicular injury he suffered on May 30, when he actually finished the game after he was injured in the eighth inning.
Joseph missed a month because of the injury, but his offense never returned.
Before the injury, Joseph was still hurting offensively, going 66 at-bats without an RBI. He had 66 more at-bats after coming back on July 3 without an RBI.
His only sustained playing time came when he played six consecutive games in mid-July when Matt Wieters injured a foot, and had three straight two-hit games, but no RBIs.
Once Wieters came back, Joseph hardly played, and was sent down to Norfolk for 10 days in late August to help him regain his batting eye.
Joseph was recalled when the rosters were expanded, but in the final weeks of the season, started just six times, going 1-for-18.
A year ago when it looked as if Wieters was going to leave as a free agent, Joseph would have been a consideration as the No. 1 catcher.
His defense was good, his offense wasn’t bad, and he seemed to have a good rapport with the pitchers.
The point became moot when Wieters surprisingly accepted a $15.8 million qualifying offer and Joseph happily welcomed him back even though he knew his playing time would be cut drastically.
A year later, the situation is even murkier.
It’s not certain that the Orioles will offer Wieters a qualifying offer of $17.2 million. There’s been some talk that in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement teams won’t be able to proffer qualifying offers in consecutive years. With perhaps two weeks left in the postseason, it’s looking unlikely that a new CBA will be completed and ratified by the players and owners by then.
The Orioles should give Wieters a qualifying offer. He had a good enough season to merit it, and they shouldn’t let him leave without getting a compensatory draft choice in return.
Wieters is arguably the most attractive catcher on the free agent market with Washington’s Wilson Ramos out for at least the early part of next season following his Friday knee surgery.
Many clubs are interested in Wieters, and the Orioles should protect themselves with a qualifying offer.
The Orioles can’t enter 2017 with Joseph as their No. 1 catcher. While they’re confident his offense will return, his drop was so drastic that they shouldn’t be assured it will return next year.
But, he’s certainly good enough defensively to be a backup catcher, and while there’s been some talk about pursuing a placeholder while Chance Sisco gets ready, Wieters is still the best choice for 2017—and perhaps beyond.
Sisco has a terrific on-base percentage of .402 in the minors, and the Orioles certainly want to improve their OBP. However his defense needs a lot of work. At Bowie, he allowed 100 stolen bases in 83 games, throwing out just 25 percent of runners trying to steal.
Colorado’s Nick Hundley has been mentioned as a possibility. He’s a free agent, and he worked well with pitchers, particularly Chris Tillman in 2014 after Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery.
Hundley doesn’t have a good arm. In 2016, he threw out just 14 percent (9 of 66) runners attempting to steal.
With the Orioles, Hundley threw out only five of 27 (19 percent), but runners rarely try to steal on Tillman, who’s especially skilled at holding them on base.
A Hundley-Joseph team for 2017 wouldn’t be bad and room could always be made if the Orioles think Sisco is ready defensively next season. Another year of Wieters-Joseph would be better.