Last weekend the Twins shook up the baseball world by signing catcher Joe Mauer, their franchise player, to an eight year contract worth $184MM. It's the fourth richest contract in baseball history and by far the biggest for a backstop. After seeing what it took to sign Mauer a year before he hit the open market, would it behoove the Orioles to approach Matt Wieters, their franchise catcher, about a long-term deal now?
The 23-year-old Wieters reached the big leagues last year with similar hype to what surrounded Mauer when he first arrived in the show. Although his overall batting line of .288/.340/.412 in 385 plate appearances was solid yet unspectacular, he finished the season strong by hitting .331/.389/.479 in his final 157 plate appearances. The expectation is that Wieters will develop into a switch hitting version of the Twins' catcher, though it's unrealistic and unfair to expect anyone to match what Mauer's done in his career to date.
Because he wasn't called up until the end of May, Wieters won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season. Even though he was a high profile draft pick in 2007, he did not sign a Major League contract, instead opting for a $6MM bonus up front. Ryan Braun (eight years, $45MM) and Evan Longoria (six years, $17.5MM plus two options) are the only two position players in recent memory to sign a long-term deal with less than one year of service time, and they both play a less demanding position than Wieters.
My gut says the Orioles should take advantage of their right to pay Wieters close to the league minimum for the next two years before attempting to sign him long-term, but what do I know? Do you think the O's should try to sign Wieters long-term now, or is it too soon and too risky given the demands of the catching position? What kind of contract would be appropriate, something along the lines of what Braun and Longoria got, or a little less?
Remember, the Orioles are by no means a small market club; they offered Mark Teixeira (a Georgia Tech product like Wieters) a nine-figure deal last offseason and certainly appear willing to add payroll for the right players. Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts are already under contract for the long haul, and Baltimore also has Adam Jones, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Nolan Reimold under team control for the next several years.