To be quite honest, I didn't think Matt Wieters had any intention of taking the qualifying offer.
Ditching the open-market for a one-year, $15.8M deal doesn't fit the hubris of super-agent Scott Boras, and it didn't really make much sense given Wieters being far and away the catcher with the highest upside to make himself available. Wieters putting all his chips in his very own basket was always a realistic possibility, but there was a never a ranging perception that he would indeed return to Baltimore.
But so he did, and here we are.
Now in hand are Wieters, Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger, three catchers whose strengths and weaknesses all make for what is one of baseball's more intriguing platoons. Wieters is the big name, and though fans have the right to question his legitimacy to what's now a nearly doubled salary from 2015, it's hard to find a more complete talent in baseball at its most taxing position. As for Joseph, a career .223/.284/.376 hitter in only 630 big league plate appearances, his surprising defensive boost and occasional pop make him a much-needed complement, and he's shown just that in two seasons with the Orioles.
Then there's the wild card Clevenger.
Clevenger, from what I've seen, has the best bat-to-ball ability between himself, Wieters and Joseph while his defense is enough to get by. In 30 games in 2015, Clevenger slashed a very solid .287/.314/.426 with 2 HRs and 11 RBIs. He didn't walk much (3.8%), but his strikeouts were far and few between as well (12.8%). Clevenger relished in what was yet again a brief ML stint. The "Pride of Pigtown" has appeared in 2, 69, 12, 34 and 30 games at the big league level from 2011-15, but 2016 presents his most realistic chance at sticking with a 25-man roster.
The Orioles will have the luxury of determining the best fits for each player, especially with a manager who tends to play towards a respective players' strengths. First, the front office will have to decide if the burden of three catchers is too much to undertake. The stipulations of the qualifying offer all but ensure Wieters will be with the Orioles for the entirety of 2016. MASN Sports' Roch Kubatko reported that the Mariners had interest in trading for Clevenger prior to the trade deadline, but the Orioles did not pull the trigger. Clevenger's value is unlikely to have changed drastically since the summer, despite an impressive second-half. Joseph would surely be the sexier trade candidate, but shipping him out of town wouldn't bring a return worth the paperwork.
If all goes according to plan, I'd expect Wieters and Joseph to be shoe-ins for the 2016 opening day roster with Clevenger being a more-than-likely role player because of his bat. As such, Showalter will be looking at three players that offer him an abundance of possibilities.
Versus righties, Wieters is a .250/.313/.390 hitter with 63% of his career home runs coming from the left-handed side of the plate. Against lefties, he is a .278 hitter with an .821 OPS and is less of a boom or bust swinger as a righty. Wieters is going to have every opportunity to play as much as his body will allow him, especially behind the plate. However, with Joseph and Clevenger set to platoon on the basis of opponent starting pitching, wouldn't it make sense to push the idea of first base to Wieters?
I mean, Wieters is certainly athletic enough to play first base. Catching at the big league level is certainly a decree of one's athleticism, even it happens to be the butter-churning, donkey-footed Wieters. His power numbers aren't going to make us forget the cuddly memories of Chris Davis, but as someone with three 22+ HR seasons from 2011-13, there is enough pop there to justify a move. Not to say it's a permanent relocation but it would certainly allow the Orioles to utilize the entire capability of the roster, something Showalter has historically been inclined to do.
Moving Wieters to first base now and then would also lessen the strain on his surgically-repaired elbow. Its a very unusual situation to deal with and Showalter managed it as well as he could this past season, playing Wieters every other day at catcher. Wieters' best attributes behind the plate were always his ability to block and show off his quick release to second base, and though he didn't show any lingering effects from TJ surgery upon coming back to the Orioles' lineup this summer, the threat of anything reoccurring will always be present. Wieters' flexibility can do wonders for both parties.
With the likelihood of Chris Davis leaving for a more willing budget, the Orioles may once again be faced with a forced platoon and Wieters' slugging style fits as a natural transit. Wieters can also DH and catch, allowing Joseph and Clevenger to play at their most comfortable. Even Clevenger, who's played a considerable amount of first base in the Cubs' minor leagues, is another candidate to specialize as a righty-only first baseman. If the Orioles can convince Steve Pearce to return at what should be a modest price, the corner trio of Wieters, Clevenger and Pearce would not only allow Joseph to play to his deserved playing time, but also playing to the numbers.
The defensive difference would be noticeable, but not to a point of major concern, despite the organization's moral obligation to the leather.
With Wieters, Clevenger and Joseph, the Orioles do have a unique situation and it would be wise to use it to their advantage. Wieters is going to be the main attraction, but his circumstances should allow the Orioles to ask him to be a little more open-minded. Joseph is the more efficient catcher, both in terms of presentation and when he puts down the right finger, and his bat has shown it can dominate baseball for a fortnight. Clevenger probably won't wow anyone behind the plate or even at first base, but he has a left-handed bat that can find a purpose.
Maybe we see Wieters at catcher, first base or as a designated hitter against righties with Clevenger behind the plate or playing first. Perhaps Joseph is calling the game against lefties while Wieters DH's. Even against right-handers, there's a logical chance Showalter could feature Joseph at catcher, Clevenger at first base and Wieters as the designated hitter. Just a little bit of creativity could go a long way.
It's way too early to make any determination on whether or not this is a plausible idea, but it's not too early to say the Orioles have something that can work. Sometimes the best move is the one you don't make, and in this case, the Orioles not ponying up for Davis and instead asking a little more of the other guys would allow them to address the more obvious pitching problem while also tweaking the lineup as the cash flow allows (especially with Wieters making nearly $16M). I happen to like all three in their own way because I do think there is something to having three catchers that each bring a different flavor to the table.
Hopefully there's enough room in the kitchen for everyone to get their fill.