The Orioles entered the season with a number of important impending free agents. We know Chris Davis will receive a $15.8MM qualifying offer, but it’s less of a certainty with the club’s other two candidates. Wei-Yin Chen is also expected to receive and reject a qualifying offer. As we’ve heard multiple times, most recently from CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the team has yet to decide what to do with Matt Wieters.
Wieters will be entering his age 30 season after a disappointing 2015 campaign. He started 2015 on the disabled list while recovering from Tommy John surgery. While there was an expectation that he could make the Opening Day roster, he was actually held out until June 5. The club decided to wait until he could start multiple days in a row behind the plate before activating him.
He was in the midst of a breakout in 2014 when he went down with the injury. While his .267/.319/.422 line over 282 plate appearances is a big step back from 2014, it’s almost a perfect replication of his career numbers (.258/.320/.423). The intervening injury does make it difficult to judge who Wieters is as an offensive player. His strikeout rate (23.8% K%) actually increased dramatically – five percent higher than his career norm. It’s possible that a normal offseason could restore him to his typical whiff rates. That means more balls in play and more hits.
Catcher defense has become an increasingly important measure. Wieters draws mixed reviews in this theater of work. His catcher framing from StatCorner is largely discouraging. He was worth negative eight runs in part-time work this year. In his last full season, 2013, he graded out at negative 11 runs. On a positive note, he’s good at blocking pitches and has caught roughly one-third of base runners over his career. That includes eight of 26 attempts this season (30.7%).
The word from Heyman is that the Orioles will extend a qualifying offer only if they’re convinced he won’t take it. In other words, they aren’t comfortable committing $15.8MM to Wieters next season. The club does work under fairly tight budget constraints and may be able to make a bigger upgrade elsewhere with that money. MLBTR’s Steve Adams “can’t imagine” the Scott Boras client would accept, but there are probably a few feasible circumstances where it could make sense.
For example, any physical problem that could negatively affect his ability to sign a long term contract might provide impetus to take a qualifying offer. Teams are always wary of losing an early draft pick. If they’re concerned about his health, Wieters could wind up getting the Nelson Cruz treatment. To be clear, there are no reports that Wieters is dealing with an injury, it’s just one potential scenario under which he may accept a qualifying offer.
If we assume he’s healthy, it does seem like Wieters should merit a sizable multi-year contract. That’s including a declined qualifying offer. There aren’t any perfect recent comps, but I do see Wieters as closer to Russell Martin (signed last offseason for five-years, $82MM) than Jarrod Saltalamacchia (signed after 2013 season for three-years, $21MM). Wieters may merit a similar annual value to Martin (about $16MM) over fewer guaranteed season. Unless we’re seriously overestimating his market, it should be a no-brainer for Wieters to decline the qualifying offer.
Let’s turn to the poll. We have a player who looks like a lock to decline a qualifying offer, but the club is putting out indications that they’re worried he’ll accept it. Do they know something we don’t?