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Orioles extending qualifying offer to Matt Wieters seen as unlikely

Last week, the Orioles were reportedly undecided about Matt Wieters, but as the deadline approaches, a qualifying offer is believed to be unlikely.

Matt Wieters focused his intense gaze on the Orioles dugout in Tampa Bay. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The deadline for teams to make a qualifying offer to pending free agents is 5pm tonight. When last we checked in on the Orioles and Matt Wieters, the team was said to have not made up their minds about what to do.

With scant hours remaining until the deadline, the team’s corps of beat writers, including The Sun’s Eduardo Encina and MASN’s Roch Kubatko, believe it’s unlikely that the O’s will make a QO to Wieters. That would mean that Wieters will hit the free agent market without any draft pick loss tied to him.

The qualifying offer for the 2017 is going to be worth $17.2 million. In his article on the O’s thinking, Encina notes that salary would make Wieters, for one season at least, the third-highest paid catcher in the game, behind Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

It’s something of an apples to oranges comparison considering how many good catchers are still in their pre-free agent years, but it’s still striking to think of Wieters as being so high up there on the salary ladder considering there’s no way that he’s one of the three best catchers in the game. The most generous way to assess his 2016 performance overall is “about league average” - and that’s only if you’re being generous.

If the Orioles didn’t think that Wieters would take the qualifying offer, then they would, of course, be sure to make him one and collect the draft pick if he goes elsewhere. But with Wieters having accepted the QO last offseason, and particularly considering he went on to have one of the worst hitting seasons of his career, they can’t be sure of what he will do.

That makes it a big risk to potentially absorb a $17.2 million blow to the 2017 payroll before the Orioles even get a chance to look at any player outside of the organization in free agency.

This was something I worried about with making the QO to Wieters last year as well, and that didn’t stop the Orioles from re-signing Chris Davis and Darren O’Day, or even adding Yovani Gallardo, Pedro Alvarez, and nearly adding Dexter Fowler. So maybe that would be the case this year as well, though it’d require a second unexpected bump in Orioles payroll.

One open and unanswered question is whether the Orioles really need Wieters. If they do need him, then a $17.2 million expense isn’t so bad to bear. Prospect Chance Sisco has gotten some attention but most observers don’t seem to believe he’d be ready to be the Opening Day catcher.

The prospect of the Orioles rolling with Caleb Joseph and Francisco Pena for any length of time is unappealing, though this is not an either/or proposition. The free agent market is going to have some catcher who’s better than Joseph and possibly not as good as Wieters but much less expensive, freeing up that money (if it’s even available) to potentially help other areas of the team.

There’s also the potential draft pick if Wieters declines the QO and signs elsewhere. It’s hard to know exactly where that pick will fall without knowing the other QO free agents and who signs where, but based on last year’s signings, a compensation pick for the Orioles would fall in around pick #30.

The Orioles do need picks, but do they need pick #30 THAT bad to take the risk about Wieters? Remember that they seem to be in line to get a pick for Mark Trumbo regardless of what decision they make about Wieters.

To me, that answer is no. With the Orioles reportedly leaning against making QO to Wieters, it seems they feel the same way. We’ll know for sure in a few hours when the deadline comes and goes, along with all of the other qualifying offer free agents.