The Orioles have been able to stay afloat through the first six weeks of the season, leading the American League East to this point despite not having a fully healthy lineup. Sunday marked the first time all year that Buck Showalter was able to pencil Manny Machado and Chris Davis into the same lineup. Sunday also marked the beginning of what could be the biggest loss for the O’s to date - Matt Wieters.
The elbow discomfort that Wieters is dealing with is very concerning and something that shouldn’t come as a surprise to many. I’m actually surprised more catchers don’t come up with elbow soreness or shoulder injuries more often considering how many throws they make each game along with the wear and tear put on their bodies. The Orioles did some patchwork when Machado was out, putting Ryan Flaherty or Jonathan Schoop in the role while sacrificing some offense and defense. It wasn’t always pretty, but it did the job. Steve Pearce filled in admirably for Davis, producing with the bat and the glove after re-signing with the team.
It’s going to be a lot harder to replace Wieters, who offers so much in all three phases of the game - hitting, pitching and defense. He’s been a force with the bat this season, always provides a good control of the game while managing the pitching staff and is considered one of the top defensive catchers in the game. He’s undeniably the team’s most irreplaceable single player. It’s still early, but Wieters had also been on pace for his best offensive season. He’s hitting .308 with five homers and is posting numbers some have expected since his arrival in Baltimore.
Steve Clevenger has filled in nicely thus far and Caleb Joseph is a fine story, but the Birds will need some more firepower from the position and a better defensive option going forward if Wieters misses an extended amount of time. Seeing Wieters serve as the designated hitter in a few games this year pained me a bit because I knew what the team was losing behind the plate. His defensive value is off the charts and the absence of him there specifically has shown a negative effect so far. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported Saturday that the team is “aggressively looking” for a backup catcher. Troy Patton has been among the rumored trade bait as the O’s look for depth. I’m not going to play general manager and go searching for names to possibly fill the role, but I am starting to wonder if we’ve seen the last of Wieters for this season.
These elbow injuries seem extremely common in this day and age and they almost always end in Tommy John surgery. Last week’s visit to Dr. James Andrews revealed that Wieters is not currently a candidate for surgery, but who’s to say that he won’t be in a month or two? If a couple of weeks on the disabled list don’t heal the elbow, what is the next step? If season-ending surgery is needed, it’s also important to start looking ahead to Wieters’ impending free agency at the end of 2015. I question whether or not it would help or hurt his case to stay in Baltimore long term, especially if he isn’t able to return to action until the middle of next season.
All of this is of course just speculation, but the fact that rumors are starting to swirl about the team looking for external options says a lot to me. The Orioles have a desire to win now, and are built for it, too. It puts an emphasis on finding a suitable answer to the position quickly. The O’s were able to withstand injuries to Machado and Davis in the early going, but one of the more underrated stars of this team has now gone down, possibly for a while. Reaction to this from an organizational standpoint will say a ton about the immediate and possibly long term future of the club.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.