Despite a three-year decline in some of his offensive stats, I still see the best move for the Orioles with catcher Matt Wieters is to sign him to a long-term contract rather than to explore trade talks.
While no one from the club has even hinted at the possibility of trading Wieters, it has become an increasingly popular topic with some fans who consider it a viable option for a player with two more years remaining of team control.
From that standpoint, if the Orioles did pursue moving Wieters, his trade value is higher now this offseason, with two years to go rather than one before he can be a free agent after the 2015 season.
But you certainly get the feeling that the popular move within the organization to include the manager’s office and the other players would be for the club to to do with Wieters what it did last year with Adam Jones: Lock up a core player with a multi-year deal, one that buys out several seasons of free agent years.
Clearly there is a segment of the fan base that sees the significant value in Wieters’ 22-homer bat and his strong defensive abilities. There is another segment that has become frustrated as his average has dropped from .262 to .249 to .235 the past three years, along with his OPS falling from .778 to .764 to .704.
In 2013, Wieters’ average and OBP were at career-low levels and his OPS was second-lowest of his five years in the majors. Even his caught stealing percentage went down from 38.6 in 2012 to 35.3 last season.
As always, it is not as simple as a decision between signing or trading him. Other questions need to be answered, like what price it would take to sign him and what players he could potentially be traded for.
One big argument against a trade of Wieters is the O’s have no successor for him currently in the organization. Yes, players like Caleb Joseph, Michael Ohlman and Chance Sisco did some good things this season and they are catchers, but only Joseph has ever played as high as Double-A. A thought that any of those players could step in for Wieters is a real stretch. The O’s did add Steve Clevenger who shows promise, but could he replace Wieters as the O’s starter?
Usually, you want to trade from a position of strength. Tampa Bay traded James Shields last December and could move pitcher David Price this offseason. But the Rays seem to always have another young pitcher ready to go. They traded from strength.
Has anyone not figured out by now that Buck Showalter may be Wieters’ biggest fan? He is for plenty of good reasons, like he realizes how hard that position is to play, and he understands on a team that relies so heavily on defense that a lot of that starts with having a top-notch defensive catcher. He understands that Wieters is involved in every pitch and you can’t put a stat on the confidence his pitchers have in him. But it is important for the Orioles.
A player like Jones is a vocal leader in the clubhouse, but that same clubhouse features more lunchpail, hard-working, quiet types that can be counted on daily like Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Nick Markakis.
At one time there was a a thought that Wieters could get a contract to rival some of the biggest ever given a catcher. But now I don’t see him approaching the deals signed by Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. Mauer got an eight-year, $184 million deal from the Twins in 2010. Posey signed a new eight-year, $167 million deal with the Giants last March.
Wieters, who made $5.5 million in 2013, his first season of arbitration, could do well with a long-term deal, but not Mauer and Posey well.
Despite his declining batting average and struggles the last two years against right-handed pitching, Wieters is 27 and coming into his prime years. He is durable, a clubhouse leader and part of a solid core of 20-something O’s that should lead this club for the next several seasons.
If the O’s did their due diligence and looked to see what Wieters could bring back in a trade, it would be reasonable to take that look. But their best play, in my opinion, continues to be to lock up their two-time All-Star catcher for several years, providing yet another key piece to build around moving forward.