The Baltimore Orioles will have a decision to make during or after the season ends. Will they be able to keep Matt Wieters behind the plate? The Orioles are becoming quite familiar with this situation as they just resigned Darren O’Day to a 4-yr $31 million dollar deal and Chris Davis to a 7-yr $161 million dollar club record deal. Wieters accepted the Orioles $15.8 million dollar qualifying offer in the off season, only the second accepted since the practice started three years ago.
It stands to reason that the primary reason Wieters accepted the one year was to utilize 2016 to showcase his health and post the numbers he’ll need to increase his value on the open market. Of course loyalty also played a role in his decision. This will be Wieters eighth season with Baltimore, which is the longest tenure since Chris Hoiles, but the likelihood he’ll resign is improbable although I’m sure everyone, including himself, would like to see him stay.
The 29-yr old’s defensive prowess had led him to two gold gloves and helped him make three trips to the All-Star game, although Tommy John surgery kept him from playing in the 2014 game. The three All-Star selections make him only the second Orioles catcher to accomplish this feet, the other being Gus Triandos in the late 50’s.
Similar to last year, Wieters will still spend this year being closely monitored to prevent any more appearances on the DL. It’s likely he’ll find himself as the DH frequently enough to protect his arm and give Caleb Joseph enough reps to stay effective. I’m sure Buck will see to Joseph getting enough playing time to maintain the working chemistry he’s been building with the pitchers.
I know that no one wants to think about Wieters leaving the nest but the question is, will Baltimore be able to afford to resign him? Baltimore doesn’t have much depth in their farm system but they do have decent depth at the Catcher position. I’ll get into more detail with that in a moment but first I want to explain the potential price Matt Wieters will inevitably cost.
It’s most likely Wieters will be looking for at least a six year contract around the $105 million range and that’s if he performs at his career average .258 BA/.423 Slg/.743 Ops who will get you around 25 HR’s a season. If he has a standout year that price tag WILL trickle up, let us not forget who his agent is. Healthy, he’s arguably the best Catcher in the AL.
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As a fair comparison, we’ll look at some of the catcher’s contracts in the same category. Brian McCann 5-yrs $85 million, Russell Martin 5-yrs-$82 million, Buster Posey 9-yrs $164 million, and Yadier Molina 10-yrs $96.5 million. If you were to calculate the average salary plus the yearly 7.3% market value inflation rate, according to Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospective, it looks like Wieters may be out of Baltimore’s price range.
The worst case scenario is Wieters is lost to the open market and the Orioles have to look to the farm. Who do they have available that could attempt to fill his shoes? Like I mentioned before, we’re actually fairly deep at the Catcher position. We all know the abilities of Caleb Joseph, he’s been a sturdy fill in for the past couple years, but we also have Francisco Pena, Chance Sisco, Jonah Heim and Yermin Mercedes.
Francisco Pena has the most experience with nine years in the Minor Leagues. He is an average replacement at best who will be starting the year in AAA. Chance Sisco is our most popularized young Catcher, Baltimore’s #8 prospect, because of his great ability to hit for average. He won the South Atlantic Batting Title in 2014 but still needs a lot of work on the defensive side of his game. Jonah Heim is Baltimore’s #16 prospect and is known for his defense as his offense is still lacking.
Yermin Mercedes may actually be the most well rounded catching prospect in our farm system. He can hit for both power and average, in addition, this 23-yr old has a very solid defense with an above average arm. He also already has 4 years of minor league experience, five years including Pecos league in 2014. He continues to be impressive as had a great Winter League outing according to Steve Melewski. He could quite possibly be our most likely catcher of the future.
So it all comes down to 2016 for Wieters. I predict he’ll have a career season, .320 BA/33 HR/100 RBI’s, all three of which would break Orioles single season records for a catcher. He’ll also find himself starting in his fourth All-Star appearance and setting another Orioles catcher record and through his success we’ll find ourselves excited yet cringing every time he puts one over the fence.
Wieters future with the Orioles may be uncertain but his ability to play the game is unwavering. It’s likely his best season with the Orioles could be his last. Either way, I’ll be routing for a World Series ring this year so he’ll always remember which organization got him there first.