The impending return of Matt Wieters to the Orioles is going to create more questions than answers for the short term and the long term. As many know, Wieters has been rehabbing in the minors following Tommy John surgery. He’s set to come off the disabled list later this week, but following some comments from Buck Showalter yesterday, I immediately question his role.
Wieters could join the club Thursday in Houston and serve as the designated hitter, or Friday in Cleveland to be the catcher. Why exactly was that distinction made? I understand that Wieters is on a program, but the understanding all along was that Wieters would be the team’s catcher and not be slid into the DH role. This creates a whole different argument that many are having. Is Wieters a better option at catcher than Caleb Joseph? This question is two-fold, because it comes with a short-term and long-term distinction.
There are those who believe keeping Joseph over Wieters, who is a free agent at season’s end, would be a smart and thrifty move for the club. There are also some who think attempting to trade Wieters prior to the July 31 deadline could benefit the club. I tend to question that mindset only because we don’t know how much value Wieters carries with him. Before his injury last season, Wieters started to show some elite offensive skills, ones that many in Baltimore had been waiting for. There’s never been much of a doubt about his defense and ability to control a pitching staff. The injury complicates much of this.
In his absence, Joseph has proven capable, even in a fairly short sample size. It’s hard to realize that Joseph doesn’t even have a full season’s worth of games under his belt at the big league level. He’s also just less than a month younger than Wieters. Prior to the season, I predicted that Wieters would return this season and play it out in a mostly starting role, but still not be able to prove that he’s ready to catch at the level he was once capable of on a full-time basis. That led me to believe he would sign a one-year, make-good deal in the offseason, or perhaps even take a qualifying offer from the O’s in order to come back next season and have a true contract year. With Scott Boras as his agent, who knows what will actually happen?
Something just tells me that Wieters doesn’t have the ability to be a catcher that can miss more than two months, and return to impress enough to go into the offseason and collect a long-term contract from a team worth $16 million a year. I don’t have the confidence in that happening, which leads me to believe he’ll be back in Baltimore, at least for one more season. Crazier things have happened, and teams have handed out more risky contracts, but I wouldn’t trust my team to commit to such a player.
In the short and long term, all of these questions put Joseph very much in limbo. No one is calling Joseph the next coming of Johnny Bench, but he’s been more than competent behind the dish for the Birds. Experience plays a factor, but some obviously think he could be more than just an injury replacement going forward. The next few weeks, and perhaps months, will be very experimental for the Orioles. I’m interested to see how Showalter plays things going forward. For a team that’s expected to be competing, it’s not exactly the time or place you’d like to see these types of questions cropping up. Luckily, the Orioles are in a division where no one seems to have a desire to pull away. In this year’s American League East, at least for now, the O’s have the ability to figure things out as they go along without losing any ground. The mysteries of the offseason can be figured out then, but for now, I’ve got all my focus on the playing time for the men with the masks.
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.