In three days time, pitchers and catchers will begin reporting to spring training camps across Arizona and Florida. Not every pitcher and catcher knows where he will be reporting just yet, or even when. That includes free agent Matt Wieters, the one-time Orioles franchise savior who turned out to be just a guy.
Rather than go through an offseason-long song-and-dance with Wieters, like they did with Chris Davis last year and Mark Trumbo this year, the Orioles chose to move along earlier in the offseason, signing Welington Castillo to be their catcher. It’s not surprising that the Orioles moved on, but it is surprising to see that no one has signed Wieters yet.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is also surprised, so much so that he carries water for Scott Boras in an article in which Rosenthal wonders why a player who has as many things in his favor, as he believes Wieters does, is still unsigned.
If you’ve got the time, you should read the article for yourself, because it’s really something. If you don’t have the time, that’s OK. Here’s one outrageous paragraph:
Boras could argue that Wieters is a combination of (Astros catcher Brian) McCann offensively and (Blue Jays catcher Russell) Martin defensively, and might not be far off. But at this point, an $80 million deal for Wieters seems unimaginable, and even a $50 million deal is probably a stretch.
There’s no longer very much mystery about why Wieters is still unsigned this late in the offseason if Boras is still out there trying to convince teams that Wieters is near either on McCann’s level offensively or Martin’s level defensively, let alone both.
Wieters was last an above-average hitter in a full season in 2012. That was a long time ago in baseball years. He rates poorly in pitch framing metrics - which Boras tries to dismiss with what a recent Supreme Court justice might have termed jiggery-pokery - and when it comes to pitch blocking, he simply doesn’t pass the eye test.
On Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan has an excellent takedown of Boras’ attempted defense of Wieters’ pitch framing. Sullivan also takes issue with Boras citing the heavily-flawed catcher ERA as something in favor of Wieters.
Both Boras and his friendly transcriber Rosenthal approach the matter with an argument that Wieters’ career to date means he should have been paid by now. Yet this misses the point as much as Dan Duquette is missing the point when he talks about how the Orioles farm system is healthy right now because current Orioles like Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop came through it.
The past is important, but for some things, right now is more important. There is no getting around that Wieters, who will be turning 31 in May, is coming off a poor offensive season and a defensive season that’s not much better except for his caught-stealing rate.
Actually, despite that, Wieters was still worth 1.7 WAR with both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference last year. Not completely worth the $15.8 million qualifying offer salary, but not far off, either.
With Tommy John in his medical history and coming off of a poor season at the plate, though, it’s fair for teams to wonder what Wieters will be capable of going forward. He almost certainly won’t be starting 130+ games at catcher like he did in 2012 and 2013. Similarly, predicting a bounce-back at the plate when Wieters was never much better than average, at best, could prove to be wishful thinking.
There are other claims that are about as ridiculous as the ones above. Rosenthal relays that Boras has been telling teams that Wieters helped to develop such pitchers as Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Jim Johnson, and Zach Britton.
It surely comes as news indeed to Orioles fans that either Gausman or Bundy has developed as hoped. If they had, the Orioles would have been in a lot better shape last year and this year as well. Tillman’s best full season was the one where Wieters caught only 22 games. And as for Britton, he didn’t become the closer until after Wieters was injured in 2014.
To be sure, Gausman did fine last year once the Orioles finally left him in the big league rotation all year, though he was supposed to be better than just fine. Bundy’s injury problems are hardly Wieters’ fault and that’s the biggest issue for his development.
But it would be a foolish or desperate team that took the evidence available and believed in Wieters as some kind of pitcher whisperer, especially if Boras is making such demands that Rosenthal thinks $50 million is only “probably” a stretch.
At this point, I find myself wondering if Wieters is even going to get $8 million. Money and jobs available have dried up, for all that Boras, through Rosenthal, tries to argue that Wieters would represent an immediate upgrade for eight or more teams, including the Orioles.
It’ll be interesting to see what ends up happening with Wieters. Maybe the Orioles will yet decide to take that plunge. We know how much they like their guys. But it’s February 10 and they haven’t done it yet, so barring a surprise, when pitchers and catchers report, Wieters will be sitting at home waiting for a phone call.