Matt Wieters is certainly pragmatic. He proved that on Friday. Wieters shocked everyone by agreeing to accept the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer.
He’ll be back with the Orioles in 2016. But, who will be with him?
The team has four players signed for next year: Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez and Adam Jones. They account for $57.6 million.
Zach Britton, Miguel Gonzalez, Manny Machado and Chris Tillman will be the most expensive of the 11 arbitration-eligible players the team will sign for next year.
Some of the more expensive arb-eligibles, Brian Matusz and Vance Worley, could now conceivably be traded or non-tendered.
With those players and the younger ones, the Orioles’ 2016 payroll is already at about $100 million.
How much room does that leave for additional free agency? If the Orioles have increased payroll flexibility, it could mean another $35 million. (Last year, their payroll reached about $120 million).
That would enable them to sign Chris Davis, but probably not enable them to spend much more on outside free agents such as Alex Gordon or Scott Kazmir, players who could fill the holes the Orioles want filled.
All along, Dan Duquette has said that he thought the team could sign “a couple” of their free agents. While many fans think the club shouldn’t have offered so much money to a catcher who missed so much time in 2014 and 2015, well they’re wrong.
After spending so much time and energy on Wieters’ rehabilitation, they didn’t want to have nothing in case he walked, and it looked like he would have.
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Until this week, none of the previous 34 free agents accepted a qualifying offer in the first three years of the system. Wieters, Houston’s Colby Rasmus and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Brett Anderson all took the deal.
While Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras repeated his vehement opposition to the qualifying offer at this week’s General Managers meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., he never ruled out the catcher accepting it.
Boras surveyed the market, and couldn’t find any appetizing deals for Wieters.
As an agent, he’s gotten burned by the qualifying offer. Two years ago, Stephen Drew rejected Boston’s qualifying offer and then held out until May and lost several million dollars as a result.
Boras could have advised Wieters to wait. Teams always need catcher, and if a front-line catcher on a big money team got hurt in spring training, Wieters could potentially cash in.
But, like his manager, Buck Showalter, Wieters likes to be prepared. If he found an offer with a new team he liked, he could have spent a few months studying his new pitchers. Wieters wouldn’t want to join a club in March, and as astute and as quick a study as he is, he’d still have to cram and learn a new staff.
Even though it’s unlikely now that Wei-Yin Chen or Darren O’Day returns, Wieters will have many pitchers he knows, and he’ll be quick to make comfortable the new ones.
His signing enables Duquette, even if he fails to sign other free agents, and I think he will, to claim victory. The Orioles retained the best catcher on the free agent market.
If he has a good year, Wieters will probably go through this once again next year, and maybe then he’ll really leave.
When he says he’s comfortable in Baltimore, well, he is. Could he be comfortable in Atlanta, his adopted home town? Sure.
But, he has a manager who appreciates him even if the reaction from the fan base was decidedly mixed. Those who criticize him don’t see the work he puts in, the ability he has to coax Chris Tillman through a tough start or the hours he spent with Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph in 2014 when he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Wieters never has become the superstar catcher many had hoped. He strikes out too much and runs too slowly. But, he has power and most important still has a good arm.
In 2015, he threw out 31 percent of runners trying to steal, just a tick below his lifetime average.
So, Wieters will be back, and so will Joseph, and most likely Steve Clevenger, too.
There won’t be an additional draft choice as compensation for Wieters leaving, but there will be something better.
The best catcher in the history of the Baltimore Orioles will be back for at least one more season.
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