The question of what the Orioles should do with Matt Wieters has been hanging over their heads going back to last year. Wieters accepting the qualifying offer for the 2016 season has only put off those discussions for a year and now they’re coming back again.
Last anything crept into the public rumor sphere about Wieters was exactly one month ago when Jon Heyman reported that the Orioles were not planning to make another qualifying offer to Wieters. Not a particularly shocking revelation to anyone who has spent significant amounts of time in 2016 watching Wieters. So that’s settled, right?
Maybe not so fast. Back on Friday, Baltimore Baseball’s Dan Connolly wrote that Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras, will be in town in Baltimore starting today in order to discuss a number of things with Dan Duquette or Peter Angelos, including a possible contract extension for Wieters, about which Boras told Connolly that he believes there’s mutual interest between team and player.
One might imagine that Boras is not coming out to Baltimore to discuss maybe adding just one more year onto the contract. They’d probably be taking multiple years for a lot of millions of dollars. Mustering excitement for several more years of Wieters when he is currently hitting .241/.301/.398 - the worst batting year of his career - is a bit of a difficult proposition.
It’d be unfair to say that Wieters has not been worth anything at all this year, nor would it be fair to say he will have no value in the future. The question is whether his salary demand would be in line with, or at all close to, the value he’s likely to produce going forward.
A 2016 season where he’s getting the $15.8 million qualifying offer salary and worth either 1.0 or 1.3 WAR, depending on which site you consult, is not inspiring in this regard. You would have to be really sure that Wieters is going to be better than what he’s shown this year to confidently offer him a contract. It’s now been four years since he played a full season where he posted an OBP over .300.
To be sure, the Orioles have a whole lot more information about what Wieters is right now and what he may be in the future than I do. That’s true in nearly every scenario about any player, though of late the Orioles have made use of their extra information to do things like sign Yovani Gallardo and trade for Wade Miley, either one of which any of us could have told them was a bad idea just from looking at Fangraphs.
They were bad ideas and they’ve worked out badly. My reaction to the idea of a Wieters extension is no different now than it was last year. It seems at first glance like another bad idea that would work out badly. The 2016 season certainly hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot to change anyone’s mind for the better about that.
Which doesn’t stop Boras from saying things like this in Connolly’s article linked above:
“This guy is General Grant and General Lee. He is the North and the South. He can do it all,” Boras told BaltimoreBaseball.com. “He is all-around.”
It’s an amusing turn of phrase that would hold a lot more water if Wieters was not in the middle of his worst offensive season as well as seeming to have really lost something of his defensive ability.
If you want to look at pitch framing - a concept that’s as frustrating as it is unavoidable - Wieters ranks towards the bottom, as he has always done. The number of wild pitches that go by him has soared.
Not every wild pitch is a catcher’s fault, but my eyebrow raises when I see the same guy had 28 wild pitches go past him in 1,201 innings in 2013 and now has had 40 wild pitches allowed in just 881.1 innings caught this year. It gives me pause. Is that something that’s going to come back? I wouldn’t want to be betting on it.
There is one area where Wieters has stayed strong on defense, though, and that is in controlling the running game. Wieters has thrown out 34% of the 58 runners who’ve tried to steal on him. That’s compared to a league average of 29%. That’s pretty good, and even better if you throw out the runners who probably stole on Ubaldo Jimenez rather than Wieters.
In Jimenez appearances, Wieters only threw out one of 15 would-be base-stealers. That means that Wieters has thrown out 44% of runners when Jimenez isn’t pitching. That’s better than just pretty good.
The stolen base thing is even more important if you, like me, find yourself eyeing top Orioles prospect, catcher Chance Sisco, and his .320/.406/.422 batting line at age 21 at Double-A Bowie and imagining him replacing Wieters in the near future.
Sisco may yet do so, but beware that runners took off on him a whopping 136 times in 754.1 innings and he only threw out 33 - a 24% success rate. The bat might be ready, but the rest could probably use some Triple-A time. Thinking of Sisco as the Opening Day 2017 catcher seems overly ambitious.
Combine that fact with the dire status of the list of pending free agent catchers from MLB Trade Rumors and the equally dire performance of the non-Wieters catchers on the 2016 O’s team, and maybe the prospect of Wieters hanging around beyond this season doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.
The Orioles can’t just go into the offseason saying, “Well, we’ll just get by with Caleb Joseph and Francisco Pena for a few months.” It is not a plan for success. The Orioles front office surely knows it.
If Boras is demanding some ridiculous price tag like five years and $100 million, of course Duquette should laugh and end the talks. What’s a reasonable number? Would Wieters’ side want to do something like three years at $15 million per year?
It’s hard to imagine they’d want to talk less than three years, or that the Orioles would want to talk more than three. Once Sisco does arrive, even if he splits playing time with Wieters initially, it’s not like Wieters has ever hit well enough to set him up as a part-time designated hitter.
The money itself is less of a concern than I would have thought a year ago. At least, as long as last offseason’s spending really signals a new era of Orioles payroll budgets. If Wieters sucks up $15 million or even a little more, so what? That won’t stop them from doing other things, especially not this offseason, where there’s hardly anybody worth signing anyway.
All in all, keeping Wieters around a while longer may well be a bad idea, but letting him go could be an even worse one. If the two sides can work out a fair deal, that should be something to celebrate. Maybe it’ll even happen this week when Boras is in town.