Moeller sets roots down in Baltimore
Even with prospect Wieters in the wings, O's catcher is at ease
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Chad Moeller is an anomaly, a veteran player on a team trying to get younger. And if that wasn't a perilous enough position, he's also a catcher auditioning for a temporary vacancy, a player who may do all he can to win a job and then have it revoked by the promotion of top prospect Matt Wieters.
But you won't find Moeller, a nine-year veteran, obsessing over his lot in life. Instead, you'll find a player whose perspective has gotten better with age, a backstop who knows he has more to give a big league team. Moeller, who has bounced through five teams since 2006, is hoping to stick with the Orioles as long as he can.
"It's a class organization from top to bottom," Moeller said Saturday. "Every person I've met that I didn't know before has impressed me. The honesty and the search for character that goes on here is second to none, and I think that's how you build something. I think you start with character, and from that point, everybody will follow around it. They told me early on that's what they care about, and that's what I've seen from them."
Moeller said that emphasis on character began with Andy MacPhail, the team's president of baseball operations, and radiated through the office of manager Dave Trembley. And he also said that's a big reason why he signed with the Orioles, even though the best they can offer is a posting as a temporary backup to Gregg Zaun.
Baltimore's plan for Wieters has been chronicled in several different forums, but it essentially boils down to this: The Orioles want him to start at Triple-A Norfolk for a month or two before he graduates to the parent club, which means the team will need a backup to start the season and eventually cede his position to Wieters.
Moeller seems to be the favorite to earn that job, heading a group that also includes incumbent Guillermo Quiroz, free-agent acquisition Robby Hammock and perhaps even former Rule 5 Draft pick Adam Donachie. Still, Moeller knows that he won't have anything handed to him and doesn't plan on taking the opportunity for granted.
"You always have to compete for a job," Moeller said. "In this game, there's always somebody that wants your job and you're always trying to get better at your job. No matter where you are, no matter who you are, no matter what, there are no assurances in this game. If somebody flat-out continues to outplay you, they're going to take your job. That's the way this game works. You may still stay in the game, but you may end up somewhere else."
Moeller, who began his career with the Minnesota Twins, knows how the itinerart phases of the game works. He played for two teams in 2007, then got released by the Washington Nationals last Spring Training. Moeller wound up spending a large portion of the year with the Yankees before finding himself on the market again.
"I started with the Twins, then I had three years in Arizona and three years in Milwaukee. I thought I was on a nice three-year plan, which would've been fantastic. But it hasn't gone that way," said Moeller. "I'd like to find a place and stick longer, but that's not how it is now and I'm still grateful to do it. There have been a lot of players who I would've deemed better than me that have since left the game, and I'm still fortunate enough to be playing it."
Part of the reason why he's still playing is character, and part is a rigorous self-assessment that led him to a winter ball stint in the Dominican Republic. Moeller recognized a defect in his swing during the 2006 season, and he went down to the Dominican to fix it in game settings as a measure to extend his career.
Moeller did so at the behest of teammate Jeff Cirillo, who had made a similar adjustment despite being in the middle of a lucrative contract. For Moeller, it meant the difference between playing in the Majors and Minors.
"I want to make sure when I'm done that i have no regrets in any aspect of the game," Moeller said. "I knew if I didn't go do it, I wasn't doing everything I could to try and prolong this. I went down to fix something, and it was hard leaving my family. The first two times I went to the Dominican, I didn't have kids and my wife came with me. To go back in '06 -- to fix something in my swing that had to be fixed in games -- was hard, because that's your time with your family. I won't get that time back with them, but I knew I'd have regrets if I didn't do something."
And now, at age 34, he finds himself without regret and without a guaranteed job. Moeller has been lauded for his ability to work with Baltimore's host of young starting pitchers, but the Orioles have Zaun at a guaranteed contract and all the incentive in the world to switch gears to Wieters whenever the time is right.
Still, for the time being, they're happy to have a veteran like Moeller in tow.
"Moller's been wonderful," said staff ace Jeremy Guthrie. "Zaunie and him are really great communicators and they've gotten to know the pitchers as best they can in a short amount of time. We just know they've been around. We trust them, and the entire pitching staff is excited to work with them. Those are two really good catchers that are both going to be very good for us and in what they can do for Matt and the younger catchers."
"He's been with a lot of different clubs and caught an awful lot of good pitchers," added Trembley. "I see him in the same category as Zaun. He's a mentor, a guy that's a catch-guy first. He takes a lot of pride in working with pitchers, calling the game, a student."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.