The Orioles intend to make a one-year, $15.8MM qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (via Twitter). Olney further notes (Twitter link) that the Braves, on paper, seem to be a good fit with Wieters, given their protected first-round pick and lack of certainty behind the plate. Wieters, of course, played his college ball at Georgia Tech and saw longtime teammate Nick Markakis head from Baltimore to Atlanta on last year’s free agent market.
The Orioles, of course, will receive a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft in the event that Wieters rejects the offer and signs with another team. A rival club would have to surrender its top unprotected draft pick (the first 10 picks in next year’s draft are protected) in order to sign Wieters. And, of course, the Orioles are free to pursue Wieters as a free agent even if rejects the offer.
Recent reports have indicated that the Orioles weren’t certain whether or not they’d make the offer to Wieters, but they’ve apparently now made up their minds. The thinking at MLBTR has long been that it’s a logical course of option for the O’s, as a prime-aged catcher that’s represented by one of the more outspoken critics of the QO system Scott Boras, never figured to be the first to accept such an offer. (And if he did, a healthier Wieters at $15.8MM on a one-year deal is probably a good value, anyway.) MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk explored the scenario in further detail in recent Offseason Outlook on the Orioles.
Wieters, 29, struggled to some extent in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. As MLBTR owner Tim Dierkes explained in Wieters’ free agent profile, elbow tendinitis kept him on the DL to open the season and delayed his season debut until June. Additionally, he only caught on back-to-back days four times this season as he re-acclimated himself to the rigors of the position. Nonetheless, Wieters’ 31 percent caught-stealing rate was right in line with his career norm and the surprisingly high league average in 2015 (both 32 percent).
At the plate, Wieters was solid, albeit unspectacular, slashing .267/.319/.422 with eight homers in 282 plate appearances. That batting line translates to a park-adjusted OPS of 100 — exactly league average — which is in line with Wieters’ career marks. (He was off to a much better start in 2014 before tearing the UCL in his throwing elbow.) While league-average production isn’t the most exciting concept in the world, it’s extremely valuable when coming from behind the plate; the league-average catcher in 2015, for instance, hit just .232/.295/.383, leaving them about 14 percent below league-average production.
While Boras and his team could theoretically eye something in the Brian McCann/Russell Martin mold for Wieters this winter, Tim predicted that Wieters can land a four-year commitment worth somewhere in the vicinity of $16MM on an annual basis in a weak market where he looks to be the only reasonably young starting option with a track record of success at the Major League level.
Wieters figures to be one of three Baltimore free agents to receive and reject a qualifying offer, with fellow Boras clients Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen serving as much more concrete cases. Other Orioles free agents such as Darren O’Day and Steve Pearce won’t receive the QO, while Gerardo Parra is ineligible to receive one after coming over via trade from the Brewers midseason (though he probably wouldn’t command one anyhow).