When Matt Wieters signed the Orioles' $15.8 million qualifying offer in November, it seemed like the team was spending a good chunk of their budget in exchange for a very small improvement. Caleb Joseph was coming off a decent year offensively, and Wieters had been only marginally better at the plate in 2015 (.741 OPS to Joseph's .693).
Beyond that, it looked like Wieters would only catch a little more than half the games anyway, based on his usage in 2015. The O's had a lot of needs heading into the offseason, and a small upgrade at catcher for 95 games wasn't at the top of the list.
In April, Wieters did absolutely nothing to convince anyone that his contract was a good idea. He started at catcher in only 14 out of 25 games, plus one game at DH. For the month he hit an abysmal .214/.290/.304 (62 wRC+), with 19 strikeouts in 62 plate appearances. Watching the games at home, his at bats became a good time to go grab another drink from the fridge or take a bathroom break. It was ugly, and our worst fears about the contract were becoming a reality.
Meanwhile, Joseph was even worse: he hit .226/.273/.258 (43 wRC+) with only one extra-base hit in April. This month, not much has changed much in terms of how the starts have been divided behind the plate; Wieters has caught nine of the sixteen games so far with Joseph getting the remaining seven. Joseph has continued to languish at the plate, and his batting line has actually gotten even worse. He's currently sitting at .204/.271/.241 in 59 plate appearances and has yet to drive in a single run.
Wieters, though, has finally gotten hot. Since the beginning of May he's hitting .324/.343/.559, with two homers and two doubles. He's struck out only six times in 35 plate appearances, and he's managed to achieve that .343 on-base percentage despite walking only once.
As Wieters distances himself from Joseph, it's time for him to step back into the role of being a true starting catcher. There are signs that this is going to happen soon: Wieters appeared in five straight games (catching four of them) for the first time this week, and Buck Showalter has recently made comments at his press conferences about getting him in the lineup more regularly.
Wieters himself has said that he finally feels like his arm strength is getting close to where it was prior to Tommy John surgery, and the results support that. While it's hard to read too much into such a small sample size, throwing out three of seven runners this year is still better than eight of 26 in 2015.
In addition to that, his arm just looks better - remember when he picked off Starlin Castro at second base two weeks ago? Forget successfully throwing him out; I doubt he would have even attempted that play last season.
Buck knows what he's doing, so we're likely to see Wieters in the lineup more often the rest of the year. He's not going to pull a Salvador Perez and start 90% of the games from here on out, but the days of him sitting on the bench 40% of the time may be behind us. Will he hit .325 the rest of the way? Nope. Will he live up to his $16 million contract? Probably not. But he's showing signs of life, and $16 million for an $8 million player is better than $16 million for the replacement-level player he was in April.
The O's are playing like a team that could push for a playoff spot, and they'll need all the offense they can get to do so. Luckily for us, Matt Wieters is finally starting to help in that regard. The only thing left to do is to get him in the lineup more consistently and hope it continues.