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.