The Rays’ interest in free-agent catcher Matt Wieters is serious enough that they’ve made a formal offer, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. However, the team’s offer is “likely for one year” and would be less lucrative than whatever figure Wieters and agent Scott Boras are still hoping to find in free agency. FanRag’s Jon Heyman first tweeted word of Tampa Bay’s offer to Wieters, though he cautioned that they may not be the front-runner to land his services.
Even a $10MM guarantee would be a fairly surprising sum for the Rays to offer, Topkin opines, though he notes that perhaps “creativity and incentives” could push the potential value of an offer beyond that threshold. Tampa Bay’s hope is that the switch-hitting Wieters will be enticed by the opportunity to work with a superior pitching staff and receive regular at-bats between catcher and, later in the year (when Wilson Ramos is healthy enough to take some of the time at catcher), designated hitter.
The question Wieters and Boras must now weigh is how long they’re willing to wait out the spring market. An injury to a contending club’s starting catcher would immediately create a new potential landing spot and could certainly lead to a larger offer (in terms of total dollars and/or years), but there’s certainly no guarantee of any such fit arising. Wieters’ camp could also look to drum up a bidding war between teams that are willing to sign him for one year; ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted yesterday that the Nationals still have interest in Wieters but wouldn’t be likely to offer anything more than a one-year pact. It’s not clear whether Boras and Wieters have dropped their asking price to the one-year range just yet, though I’d imagine that if they did, there’d be more clubs beyond the Rays and Nationals that were willing to try to make something work.
As it stands, the Rays will enter the season with Curt Casali and Luke Maile as their lead catchers on the 40-man roster, with veterans Michael McKenry and Jesus Sucre in camp as non-roster invitees. Ramos is reportedly eyeing a May return to the team, Topkin tweeted yesterday, but that’s an ambitious goal for a catcher who suffered his second career ACL tear late last September.
The 30-year-old Wieters is coming off a season in which he batted .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs in 464 plate appearances. His at-bats were limited early on as he ramped back up to full durability after missing much of the 2014-15 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, but Wieters was catching a significant workload by September of last season. He routinely draws poor framing marks, however, and his market has seemingly been hampered by that fact this winter as teams place a continually growing emphasis on that ability when evaluating backstops.