Mar 8, 2014; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (32) hits an RBI single during the second inning against the Boston Red Sox at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: What is Wieters worth?


I’m torn, as many Orioles fans are, about a potential contract extension for two-time all-star catcher Matt Wieters. On one hand, I love certain things about Matt Wieters. I’ll laugh when a poor lost soul tries to swipe second. I’ll laud Wieters for his ability and desire to catch every day. I love his positive attitude and his handling of the wide range of Orioles’ pitching — from inexperienced super talents like Kevin Gausman, to over-the-hill finesse pitchers like Joe Saunders.

Then he comes to the plate.

Once considered a prime hitting prospect Wieters has not lived up to the “Switch-Hitting-Jesus” or “Mauer-With-Power” monikers. Some have wondered whether he should give up the switch-hitting part altogether. No one draws the comparison to the perennial .300-hitting Joe Mauer anymore.

Instead, the Orioles get a healthy 20 home runs per year and a not-so-healthy batting average. Last year, the real killer was a bottom-scraping .287 on-base-percentage coupled with his career-low .235 average. Even second baseman and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty, who many would argue was the worst hitter on last year’s Orioles team, bested Wieters’ lowly OBP.

When it comes down to it, the Orioles are paying for two good-to-very-good attributes from Wieters, his power and his defense. But how much is that worth, and how much is that offset by his below average production in other areas.

From early indications, Wieters’ agent Scott Boras seems to think that Wieters is worth a lot. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Boras proposed an extension somewhere in the range of the eight-year, $184 million deal that Mauer signed before the 2013 season.

In 2012, 29-year-old catcher Yadier Molina signed a five-year, $75 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, Molina had won four consecutive Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team three times. He was coming off a 2011 season where he hit .305/.349/.465 over 139 games and his career was trending upward.

Wieters put up comparable numbers to Molina earlier in his career, batting .262/.328./.450 and .249/.329/.435 in 2011 and 2012, respectively, while hitting 22 and 23 home runs during those seasons. Before his backslide in 2013, I would have said that Wieters deserves similar money. But now, giving Wieters a contract worth the same average annual value as Molina ($15 million per year) seems like overpaying for an inferior performance.

Before this season, Wieters and the Orioles agreed to a one-year, $7.5 million deal to avoid arbitration. Paying much more than that is becoming increasingly less attractive for the Orioles and their fans. While having Wieters around is great for now, he hasn’t done enough to warrant a long term deal on the same level that he’s reportedly asked for. What he brings to the table, defense and power, are two things the Orioles currently have a surplus of. If the team needs to cut costs to sign other stars like Chris Davis, catcher may be the position to do it. It can afford to bring in a replacement-level player, perhaps Baltimore product Steve Clevenger, to handle duties behind the plate in a couple years. He may actually be an improvement on offense given the way that Wieters performed last year.

If Wieters continues to show that he may not be worth a high-cost long-term commitment with his play this year, the Orioles are left with two options: make Wieters a qualifying offer when he walks in 2015, thus recouping a first-round draft pick, or trade him.

Either way, Matt Wieters should not be a Baltimore Oriole beyond the 2015 season unless his contract demands dramatically decrease. Stellar defense and power are great, but at what cost? The Orioles have more important paydays coming up in Davis and Manny Machado. Despite what he’s done for the Orioles, its becoming apparent that the best option is for the pair to part ways. I’ll miss Matt Wieters when the Orioles are in the field, but I’ll be glad to see his name out of the batting order and off the Orioles books.

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  • matrixphijr

    I wouldn’t call Flaherty the worst hitter on the Orioles last year. Statistically, yes, he ended with a .224 average. But, he started the season in a 7-for-65 hole that made digging his way out all but impossible. Once he returned from a short stint in the minors on May 29th, he hit much better the rest of the season (.276/.331/.481), with a period of about a month and a half where he hit over .300. Considering that his average on May 8th was barely over .100, he came a long way in bringing his average up. This spring, he’s hitting over .310 while still showing consistent power.

    I understand that your article was just making a pointed comparison about Wieters, but I disagree with Flaherty being the target of it. A handful of Orioles hitters had sub-par years in 2013. Even Markakis played much of the season well below his usual stat line.

    Otherwise, you make a very good point. Following the “rule” the Ravens use to determine whether a player is worth keeping or being replaced, if we can get at least 80% of Wieters’ production (including defense) for 20% of his asking price, it’s time for a change, Gold Glover or not. I think we can, unless his hitting improves dramatically in short order.

    • Scott Cahoon

      Matrix — Thanks for reading. You’re right saying that Flaherty was adversely affected by his slow start and I agree that his second half was much better than his first. Still, statistically, he finished with the worst OPS (.683) of any Oriole hitter with more than 200 ABs. Yes, that was largely because of his slow start, but I can’t ignore that chunk the season when reflecting back on last season as a whole. There might be other worthy candidates I could have pointed out, including Markakis, whose OPS (.685) was only slightly above Flaherty’s, but Flaherty was among them. That said, my intention was not to comment on Flaherty’s prospects for this year. I have also noticed his solid spring and think that he will be a more valuable piece for the 2014 Orioles than most fans understand. If he has the year I think he can have, the Orioles infield will be awfully crowded next year with Schoop making a strong push for playing time as well.

      As for the Ravens rule — that’s a great comparison to draw. It seems the Orioles applied it this offseason already by dumping Jim Johnson with his $10 million contract and replacing him with Tommy Hunter. Hopefully the Orioles continue to use that kind of logic. Smaller market baseball teams have to if they want to be competitive.

    • MachadoAboutNothing

      Thanks for reading, Matrix. You’re right saying that Flaherty was adversely affected by his slow start and I agree that his second half was much better than his first. Still, statistically, he finished with the worst OPS (.683) of any Oriole hitter with more than 200 ABs. Yes, that was largely because of his slow start, but I can’t ignore that chunk the season when reflecting back on last season as a whole. There might be other worthy candidates I could have pointed out, including Markakis, whose OPS (.685) was only slightly above Flaherty’s, but Flaherty was among them. That said, my intention was not to comment on Flaherty’s prospects for this year. I have also noticed his solid spring and think that he will be a more valuable piece for the 2014 Orioles than most fans understand. If he has the year I think he can have, the Orioles infield will be awfully crowded next year with Schoop making a strong push for playing time as well.

      As for the Ravens rule — that’s a great comparison to draw. It seems the Orioles applied it this offseason already by dumping Jim Johnson with his $10 million contract and replacing him with Tommy Hunter. Hopefully the Orioles continue to use that kind of logic. Smaller market baseball teams have to if they want to be competitive.

      -Scott

      • matrixphijr

        You’re welcome. I’ve been really anticipating this Orioles season lately. (With all the standouts in Spring Training, it’s hard not to.) When’s the last time we O’s fans actually had some excitement BEFORE the season started? I was pretty young in the ’90s, so that’s a vague memory for me. Maybe there was some in the mid-2000s, but that was drowned out by the perpetual disappointment after awhile. While 2012 was a fantastic season, it was really a surprise. I can’t remember ever having this kind of anxious anticipation during baseball season.
        Anyway, in browsing and surfing around, I sort of stumbled on this article yesterday, but I really enjoyed reading your perspective. It would be hard to see Wieters go, but it’s more of a shame he hasn’t lived up to the high (maybe too high) expectations we had when he first came up. It would be a difficult sell to convince the fans that replacing Wieters is the best move. Even I hesitate to actually believe that.
        I feel much the same way about losing Jimmy. It was tough to see things end after a down season for him, and it seems like a lot of fans turned on him undeservedly — he saved 101 games over two seasons for us. Still, I wish him luck in Oakland and hope Tommy is up to the task.
        As for Flaherty, I understand you were only using him as a statistical comparison to Wieters, but I can’t help defending Flash. I like the guy. He’s had to deal with a lot: bouncing back and forth between majors and minors, being benched a number of times (including being replaced by the oft-injured Roberts when he was actually doing well), and/or being moved to other positions to find a niche. As you suggested, I think this is his year to prove his worth to the fans who dismissed him. Schoop is still young and raw. Giving him an extra year or two to develop in the minors wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
        In short, I enjoyed the article. See you at the Yard. GO O’S!
        -Andrew