Late-breaking steal: Wieters could be quite a catch
Several clubs, including Orioles, in running for his services
By Richard Justice
Matt Wieters certainly isn't the only notable unsigned free agent. With the start of Spring Training two weeks away, there's still help to be had at almost every position.
It's just that Wieters stands out as a player who could provide a significant upgrade for a long list of teams. He's a four-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner at the most demanding position on the field.
Wieters was one of the cornerstones of the Baltimore renaissance and helped the Orioles get to the postseason twice. He became so ingrained in the city's culture that it will be a shock to the system to see him in another uniform, which is a high compliment for any player.
And Wieters is 30 years old. Having started 788 games behind the plate, there should still be some prime years ahead.
Sure, there's risk. No veteran player comes without some. Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, and while he started 111 games behind the plate, his pitch-framing metrics were below average (-4.4, according to Baseball Prospectus).
But even if Wieters produces offensively at exactly the same level he did in 2016 --.711 OPS, 17 doubles, 17 home runs -- he would be a nice get for a bunch of teams.
Will Wieters ever again be the 4.4 Wins Above Replacement player he was in 2011 or the 3.9 WAR player he was in '12? That's the leap of faith. His 1.7 WAR in 2016 reflected a player seemed to reflect a player still getting comfortable.
Obviously, the only reason Wieters is unsigned is that no team has yet been willing to meet his price. That price likely will change as the countdown to Opening Day begins and teams sharpen their focus.
If Wieters will accept a one-year deal to reestablish himself for another run at free agency next offseason, he would have plenty of options.
For now, let's look at some logical fits:
Five that make sense
General manager Billy Eppler said he remains in a listening mode, but it's also clear he's prepared to go to camp with a platoon of Carlos Perez and Martin Maldonado. Could the Angels and agent Scott Boras (a season-ticket holder) find some middle ground? For a team that appears to be good enough to win the American League West, it would be a nice fit.
All-Star Wilson Ramos, who signed with the Rays, has been replaced by a platoon that will include Derek Norris, Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino. General manager Mike Rizzo is high on Severino, 23, who has had 32 big league at-bats. If the Nats were going to spend big for a free agent, they probably would have gone for one of the available closers. There's not much doubt Wieters would make the club better, but as with the Angels, it's finding a deal both sides are comfortable with.
Wieters makes sense in terms of making the D-backs better in 2016. But as new president of baseball operations Mike Hazen shifts the franchise to a long-term approach, Wieters makes sense only on a short-term contract. The club has three veteran catchers -- Chris Iannetta, Jeff Mathis and Chris Herrmann -- and Hazen seems comfortable opening the season with them.
This is a very dark-horse entry. General manager Jeff Luhnow intends to open the season with a platoon of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, and Luhnow's focus in recent weeks has been on adding to the rotation. If he can include Gattis in a trade to acquire a starting pitcher, Wieters suddenly makes sense.
No long-term deal was reached during Wieters' eight seasons in Baltimore, but things do change as Spring Training approaches. Even with newly signed Welington Castillo, manager Buck Showalter could find plenty of at-bats for Wieters.
Five others that could make sense
Ramos may not return for two months, and the Rays badly need offense. There would be at-bats for both even after Ramos recovered.
If the price is right, who knows? Travis d'Arnaud has played 142 games the past two seasons. The Mets figure to have the best starting rotation on the planet.
General manager David Stearns is in a rebuilding mode, but he almost certainly would welcome Wieters on a short-term deal.
Reds Tucker Barnhart is the starter until Devin Mesoraco is fully recovered from hip and shoulder injuries. Wieters would be a nice insurance policy, but it makes less sense for a rebuilding team.
Braves Kurt Suzuki's signing seemed to take the Braves out of the mix, so would they make one more big-ticket acquisition for their first year in SunTrust Park?
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.