The Arizona Diamondbacks announced today that they had agreed to terms with catcher Caleb Joseph on a one-year contract. To make room for Joseph on the roster, the D-backs placed Taijuan Walker on the 60-day Injured List (the list formerly known as Disabled), so the D-backs’ 40-man roster remains at 40. Joseph was drafted by the Orioles in 2008, and reached the majors in 2014. Since then, he has appeared in 402 games for Baltimore, hitting .224/.271/.353 for a .624 OPS (OPS+ of 70). He set an unwanted record with the Orioles in 2016, setting the major league mark for most at-bats ever in a season without recording a single RBI (132).
Yeah, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Diamondbacks have signed another light-hitting catcher with a good defensive reputation. His 29.4% caught stealing percentage is in the top ten of active catchers (min. 375 games), and puts Joseph ahead of 2018 All-Stars J.T. Realmuto (28.3%), Wilson Ramos (27.3%) and Buster Posey (26.9%). He was the best catcher in terms of pitch framing on the Orioles each season from 2015-17, but plummeted to last in 2018, which is likely testament to the volatility of the metric. This is an unexpected signing: I’m not sure anyone looked at the team going into spring training, and thought “Arizona needs another catcher.”
However, the cost of the deal depends on where he goes: per Zach Buchanan, the catcher will make $1.1 million if he makes the majors, $250 K if he doesn’t. And it appears the player does have a minor-league option left, so the latter seems the most likely scenario. Even if the team goes with three catchers, as last season, it’ll likely be a toss-up between Joseph and John Ryan Murphy for the final spot. And according to Roster Resource, Murphy is out of options. It seems likely Joseph will provide depth in the minors, in case of injury to those ahead of him. But it’s a role to which he should be used, having allegedly once said while in Baltimore, “Somebody has to be Matt Wieters’s backup.”
He does seem to have been quite warmly regarded among Baltimore fans, and is a bit of a feel-good story. In his first pro season, he spent a good chunk of night sleeping in the team clubhouse, because “My apartment didn’t have a TV or cable or Internet. The clubhouse had Internet and cable.” Later, he considered giving up the game entirely, shortly before getting his call, saying. “When you play 400-something games at one level, you’re getting into Crash Davis territory. And being a catcher, some of the guys called me Crash. It was funny for a little bit, but after a while, you’re like, this is not how I envisioned my career... I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that, just about once a week, I thought about hanging it up.”
Our siblings over at Camden Chat just posted a nice article on Joseph, explaining more about why he was regarded more warmly than his performance might led you to expect:
From his antics impersonating coaches and managers to his fondness for air-drumming and high-fiving nonexistent fans in the empty stadium on the day the Orioles played in the aftermath of the 2015 riots in Baltimore, it was just hard not to like the guy. This is a different kind of like than what you might have for a perennial All-Star player on your favorite team... Any baseball player who makes it to MLB is better at baseball than you or I will ever be at any job, but as much as someone who’s at that level is capable of being one, Joseph just seemed like an everyman kind of guy. That’s as Birdland as it gets.
We may or may not see him in a Diamondbacks’ uniform this season, but if we do, think he’ll be easy to root for Joseph.