While it seems a pretty safe bet that Chris Davis is going to cash in big with some team this winter and that Wei-Yin Chen may be in line for a three- or four-year deal (and maybe one longer than that), catcher Matt Wieters’ future is harder to predict.
It starts with the Orioles and their decision whether or not to make him the qualifying offer. If they make the offer, Wieters could sign it and he would then earn $15.8 million to play the 2016 season as an Oriole. If he declines the qualifying offer, Wieters would hit the open market through free agency. If he signs with another team, the Orioles would get a compensation draft pick after the first round next June.
After the 2014 season, the Orioles made Nelson Cruz a qualifying offer, he turned it down and signed with Seattle, and they got what turned out to be the 36th overall pick in the draft last June. With that pick, the O’s selected high school shortstop Ryan Mountcastle, who has quickly become one of their top prospects.
After the final game of the 2015 season, Wieters talked about the emotions of the day and knowing that he might have played his last game with the team.
“It was emotional before the game, and then the game came, and I could focus on the task at hand,” Wieters said. “Now I have no idea what to expect. I’m going to embrace it and go from there.
“Every offseason, if you are not a free agent, you think you’ll be back. But this is the first offseason where it could be anywhere. I loved every second I spent here and I love everyone in this clubhouse and I’ve loved the fans. If it ends today, it’s been a great time.”
Some believe there is no way that Weiters - a Scott Boras client - would accept a qualifying offer. No player has yet accepted one. But Wieters could be a unique case. If he took the offer, he could then use the 2016 season to re-establish himself as a top catcher and, if he can do that, he would hit the market after next year with potentially much more bargaining power than he has right now.
Wieters played just 75 games this past season after his Tommy John surgery from 2014. Wieters is no longer a slam dunk to get a sizable multi-year contract. He could re-enter the market after next year at 30 and get his big payday then - just one year later than originally planned.
Also, if the Orioles do make the qualifying offer, that will further hurt Wieters’ chance to get a big contract. A team signing him would then also have to part with a draft pick. The qualifying offers have clearly proven to put a drag on salaries.
All of this could make Wieters more likely to be the first to accept a qualifying offer than some think. After all, he loves being an Oriole and playing for Buck Showalter. He would also get a huge raise from his salary of $8.3 million for the 2015 season. If he takes the qualifying offer, he will have played for a total of $31.8 million from 2014-16.
Turning down a qualifying offer can backfire on a player and Wieters can look to a former teammate to understand this. After the 2013 season, Cruz turned down a qualifying offer of $14.1 million from Texas. He hoped to get a deal possibly as big as $75 million. But after he never got the offer he hoped for, Cruz was left with few suitors in the end and signed a one-year deal worth $8 million with the Orioles in February 2014. A year later - after his 40-homer season with Baltimore - he got his big deal. He signed with Seattle for four years and $57 million.
So there are some decisions coming soon here. First by the Orioles, who must decide within five days of the end of the World Series whether or not to extend that qualifying offer. If they do, Wieters and Boras make the next move - to take it or not. As Cruz’s situation after 2013 proved, turning down the offer does not always lead to an immediate bigger payday.