Baltimore Orioles: Reflecting on the Matt Wieters Era in Baltimore

Sep 4, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (32) warms up in the on deck circle during the game against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (32) warms up in the on deck circle during the game against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

It appears increasingly unlikely that Matt Wieters will return to the Baltimore Orioles. How should fans remember his time in Baltimore?

When Matt Wieters was plucked by the Baltimore Orioles out of Georgia Tech with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft, the hype reached unnatural levels almost immediately. Wieters instantly became the best position prospect drafted by the Orioles in their decade-long rebuild. Standing 6’5″, the switch-hitting catcher had it all — a rifle arm, power to all fields, and a refined approach at the plate.

Wieters arrived at a time when the Orioles were at their lowest point. Between 2006 and 2012, the team did not win more than 70 games in a single season, and a concrete rebuilding plan was only beginning to take shape. At 21, Wieters was labeled “Joe Mauer with Power,” and given the monumental task of leading the Orioles back to the Promised Land.

Suffice to say, these were unfair expectations, but Wieters hardly did anything to slow down the hype train. In his first full professional season, at 22, Wieters batted .355/.454/.600 over 130 games across High-A and Double A. He hit 22 doubles, 27 home runs, drew 82 walks against only 76 strikeouts, and threw out 37 runners. It took only 39 games at Triple-A in 2009 before Wieters would get the call to the big leagues.

Again, Wieters did little to lower expectations after making his debut. In his rookie year, the 23-year old slashed .288/.340/.412 with nine home runs in 96 games. Those numbers compared fairly well to Mauer’s rookie season in 2005 — .294/.372/.411 with nine home runs in 131 games. From there, the catchers’ numbers diverged. Mauer won a batting title in 2006, his second full year in the league, hitting .347. Wieters batted .249 with an OPS below .700 in his second season in the league.

Through their first eight years in the league, Mauer and Wieters both played close to 900 games. The Minnesota catcher won three batting titles, an MVP, four Silver Sluggers, and three Gold Gloves. He slashed .323/.403/.471. Wieters, on the other hand, slashed .256/.318/.421. “Joe Mauer with Power” actually slugged 50 points lower than regular Joe Mauer.

With the Orioles closing in on a deal with Welington Castillo, it appears Wieters’ time in Baltimore is coming to an end. He will go down in club history with the third most home runs at catcher in franchise history, behind Chris Hoiles and Gus Triandos. Wieters also made four All-Star teams, but that speaks more to the lack of depth at the position in the American League than his offensive output.

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When it’s all said and done, and the ink on Wieters’ next contract dries with another team, how should Orioles fans remember him? It would be a huge injustice to label him a bust, but some may. He never lived up to the massive expectations, that were only intensified by the fans’ desire to see a winning team back on the field as the losses piled up. Wieters never had that signature moment in Baltimore, but he was steady, and produced at an above-average clip for a catcher. Very few catchers in the history of the game have ever sniffed the type of numbers Mauer was putting up early in his career, so of course Wieters was set up to fail. Perhaps things would have gone differently if he had arrived to less fanfare to catch for a winning team in 2012. Unfortunately, the Orioles of the mid-2000s were awful, awful teams, and Wieters got rushed to the big leagues.

For a top-five pick, Wieters produced underwhelming numbers, but he is currently sixth in his draft class with a career WAR of 16.3, which includes almost two years on the DL while recovering from Tommy John surgery. It could have been far worse for the Orioles (and it often has been over the past 25 years) — players selected around Wieters in the draft included Daniel Moskos, Josh Vitters, Ross Detwiler, Casey Weathers and Matt LaPorta. Those five have combined for -1.7 career WAR, with Weathers failing to even pitch in the big leagues. Clearly, the Orioles could have done far, far worse than Matt Wieters.

Still, one can’t help but wonder how differently things would have gone the past six years had the Orioles nabbed a high schooler from rural North Carolina named Madison Bumgarner and then returned to draft another catcher from the ACC named Buster Posey a year later.