WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals had been the speculated landing spot for free-agent catcher Matt Wieters this offseason, and the two sides completed a deal on Friday.
The pact, reportedly worth up to $21 million, is for one year plus a player option for 2018. Wieters will be paid $10.5 million in '17 and the same amount if he returns for '18, with $5 million deferred through '21, according to The Washington Post.
Wieters, who turns 31 in May, will help fill a void left after the Nationals lost starting catcher Wilson Ramos, who tore his right ACL in September and signed with the Rays during free agency. Wieters spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Orioles, where he became a four-time All-Star, most recently in 2016. He is an upgrade offensively from their current catchers, and adding him to the mix lengthens an already deep Nationals lineup.
"I know he came in kind of with a bang, and he was one of the best catchers around," manager Dusty Baker said. "Then he got injured, and then he's been trying to regroup and regather himself since that point in time. It looked like last year when we played him, he was an offensive force. It gives us another big bat in the lineup."
The addition of Wieters comes with a few questions. He had Tommy John surgery in 2014 that limited him to 101 games between '14-15. This past season, he appeared in 124 games and hit .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs and a career-low 87 OPS+, where 100 is the league average. His pitch-framing metrics have been poor, at 7.3 runs below average, per StatCorner. Baker said he was glad to get this deal completed now to give Wieters enough time to start learning about a new pitching staff before the start of the season.
"It's better that we got him here at this time versus a couple weeks from now," Baker said. "Then you would've been flirting with too late and kind of learning on the fly as we go."
Even when the Nationals were linked to Wieters during the offseason, they downplayed their interest and did not pursue him aggressively. But general manager Mike Rizzo always seeks a good deal, so as the market for Wieters never materialized and he remained a free agent, Washington was likely able to grab him at a discounted price.
Signing Wieters is another signal that the Nationals' offseason, as quiet as it has been, is perhaps not over.
The Nats' 40-man roster was full, so in a corresponding move Friday, Washington placed first baseman Jose Marmolejos on the 60-day disabled list with a left forearm strain.
The Nationals have a surplus of catchers, with Wieters, Derek Norris, Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino, their No. 11 prospect as rated by MLBPipeline.com. It is possible that Washington will try to turn that catching depth into help at the back end of the bullpen as its search for a closer continues.
The White Sox have needs at catcher, and the Nationals have been interested in acquiring closer David Robertson, so there is a possible fit. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reported "a team that has been talking with the White Sox says [Chicago has] been waiting for the Nats to sign Wieters to rekindle David Robertson trade talks."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
After missing significant portions of 2014 and '15 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Wieters made 111 starts behind the plate and belted 17 home runs this past season. Now set to join a deep Nationals lineup, the 30-year-old should remain a solid late-round option in one-catcher leagues on the expectation that he can provide roughly 20 homers and 65 RBIs. Meanwhile, Wieters' arrival in Washington will push Norris to a reserve role and off mixed-league draft lists.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.