In very unfortunate news for the player and team, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos is out for the remainder of 2016 with a torn ACL. Ramos, 29, was having the best year of his career in 2016, which is his contract year. This season, he slashed .307/.354/.496 with 22 homers in 523 plate appearances and threw out 37.3 percent of attempted base stealers. It was beginning to look like Ramos would earn himself a big pay day in free agency, whether that money came from the Nationals or another club in need of a backstop. Unfortunately, Ramos is now injured, scheduled for surgery, and his free agent value is in question.
While the news is saddening for the All-Star catcher and the Nationals organization, there are two groups who become positively affected by Ramos’ injury: teams that will face the Nationals in the playoffs and impending free-agent catchers. Ramos was the head of the free agent class for backstops, but now the top catcher may be a familiar face: Matt Wieters. Aside from Wieters and Ramos, catchers set to hit the free agent market include Jason Castro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Geovany Soto and former Oriole Nick Hundley.
A couple of weeks ago, Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com reported that Wieters’ agent Scott Boras arrived in Baltimore to discuss a potential contract extension for his client and the Orioles. The extent of the discussions never leaked, but I would imagine that conversations came to a close when Ramos’ injury details became known. With Wieters being now the top available catcher on the market, Boras will likely encourage his client to test the market.
Prior to the Ramos injury, I predicted Wieters to find a two-to-three year contract in the range of $10-12 million annually. Now that he is the top catcher on the market, and assuming a qualifying offer won’t be attached to him, I believe a team may reach out to him with a three-or-four year offer for $12-14 million per year. Desperate times may call for desperate measures.
So far this season, Wieters is slashing .243/.303/.402 with 15 homers in 443 plate appearances. His blocking and pitch-framing may not be great or as good as it used to be, but he still controls the running game, gunning down 34.4 percent of attempted base stealers this season. His performance equals out to 1.6 fWAR, which is a salary value of $12.6 million, according to FanGraphs.com. He isn’t as great as he used to be, but he still is a good catcher with a decent bat, which should give him good value on the free-agent market.
I’m not sure the O’s should extend Wieters the qualifying offer this offseason, which is expected to be around $17 million over one year. Even if he is the top catcher on the market, I think a player of Wieters’ caliber wouldn’t turn away from $17 million. And if he accepts a potential $17 million offer from the O’s, that would be a big chunk of change on the 2017 payroll that they may have hoped to use elsewhere. Aside from free agent decisions on Wieters, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez and others, the Birds also will be giving pay raises to arbitration-eligible players like Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach and Jonathan Schoop, among others.
If you had your fingers crossed for a Wieters extension when Boras came to town, you can uncross them. With Ramos on the shelf, the Orioles All-Star catcher should be looking to test waters in free agency for the first time in his career.
Dillon Atkinson blogs about the Orioles for Orioles Uncensored. Follow him on Twitter: @DAtkinsonOU. 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.