With Matt Wieters hitting the open market this winter, the Orioles “definitely have an interest” in a reunion with Nick Hundley, according to Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com. A deal with Hundley would mark the veteran’s second tour of duty with Baltimore, as he was one of the team’s primary catchers in 2014 when Wieters missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery.
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As it stands right now, the Orioles will enter the year with Caleb Joseph as their starter and one of Audry Perez or Francisco Pena as his backup. Joseph, 30, showed decent power in 2015, hitting .234/.299/.394 with 11 home runs in 355 plate appearances. The O’s were plenty comfortable with Joseph acting as the backup to Wieters in 2016, but his offensive production plummeted, casting doubt on his ability to serve as an everyday option while the team awaits the arrival of top prospect Chance Sisco. Joseph batted just .174/.216/.197 in 141 plate appearances this past season. Pena was similarly unproductive in 43 MLB plate appearances (.200/.238/.275) and has a sub-.300 OBP in his Triple-A career. Perez has just two MLB plate appearances to his name and will turn 28 next month. And Sisco, despite his status as a Top 100 prospect, probably needs more development time, as he’s only played four games at the Triple-A level and is still just 21 years of age.
That certainly makes for an on-paper need behind the dish, but Connolly also suggests that the team might not be willing to go beyond a one-year deal to bring in a catcher. They balked at giving Hundley a two-year deal after the 2014 season, he notes, and the team could be banking on the fact that Sisco will be ready to inherit the starting job in what would be the second season of a multi-year deal for a catcher. The O’s are also known to be looking for outfield help on the free-agent market, and having spent so aggressively last winter, GM Dan Duquette has at least suggested that the Orioles’ offseason spending will be more measured this winter.
Hundley, 33, spent the past two seasons with the Rockies, hitting a combined .282/.330/.455 with 18 homers in 615 plate appearances. While some of his offensive production can be attributed to Coors Field, he did hit well on the road in 2016 (.275/.331/.472) and did have some solid offensive seasons as a member of the Padres earlier in his career. His defense isn’t especially strong, as he’s caught 23.6 percent of attempted base-stealers over the past four seasons, including a dismal 9-for-66 (13.6 percent) showing in 2016. He also grades out as a poor framer of pitches, per Baseball Prospectus.
If Hundley is able to secure a multi-year deal elsewhere, he’d join Wieters, Jason Castro and quite possibly Wilson Ramos as backstops to do so this winter. The catching market does offer a number of veteran options who could be available on one-year deals, though, including Kurt Suzuki, Alex Avila, Chris Iannetta, Geovany Soto and possibly Wilin Rosario, if he returns to the Majors after spending the 2016 season in Korea. Any of those names could reasonably be considered targets for the O’s, although each comes with some degree of questions about either his offensive or defensive proficiency.