It is now February and former Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is still available on the free agency market. Marc Topkin vaguely mentioned him as a possibility in the following tweet:
No good read yet on likelihood of Wieters signing with #Rays, but hearing several teams still involved and timing is part of equation.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 2, 2017
The rumors surrounding the Rays currently having them pursuing a right handed first baseman to move Brad Miller over to second on most days. but could Matt Wieters be a possibility instead?
Matt Wieters will be 31 years old in May and is coming off a season where he accepted a qualifying offer of $15.8MM from Baltimore.
Since missing about a year due to Tommy John Surgery, Matt Wieters has hit .253/.309/.414 and 93 wRC+ over 746 plate appearances. He also hit 25 homers and driven in 91 runs.
As a switch-hitter he always has the platoon advantage and has hit .256/.311/.427 and 97 wRC+ in 557 plate appearances against right handed pitchers. He hasn’t been as productive against left handed pitchers, which is the real Rays need, as he’s hit .243/.302/.376 and 81 wRC+ in 189 plate appearances.
ZiPS projects Wieters to hit .248/.301/.410 and 90 wRC+, which is very similar to his Steamer projection of .245/.302/.409 and 89 wRC+. While the projection isn’t great offensively, the bat plays well at the position and would be one of the best hitting seasons by a catcher in team history however sad that may be.
At first glance at his player page on Fangraphs it would look like he’s a good defender as he does the things they value as he’s put up a 1.0 and 1.7 fWAR seasons since returning from injury.
He’s done a good job controlling the running game as he’s thrown out 31 of 92 of attempted stolen bases (33.7%) which is above the league average of 28%. His arm has been worth +1.9 runs according to Baseball Prospectus.
As far as limiting wild pitches and passed balls he has been just a hair above average at +0.5 runs according to Baseball Prospectus.
The elephant in the room is pitch framing. Wieters isn’t a complete disaster at framing, but he’s not good. In the last year and half he has cost his team 8.0 runs according to Baseball Prospectus, with -3.6 runs in 2015 and -4.4 runs in 2016.
The overall package defensively has been worth -1.9 and -1.2 runs the past two seasons which lowers his value to 0.7 and 1.1 WARP via Baseball Prospectus.
How does Wieters fit on the roster?
The Rays already signed Wilson Ramos, but he won’t be able to catch for at least the first few months of the season due to tearing his ACL in the last week of the regular season. Wieters isn’t an upgrade over Wilson Ramos defensively or offensively, but he could be an upgrade over Luke Maile.
As a switch-hitter you could pair Wieters with Curt Casali and take advantage of Casali’s propensity for hitting left handed pitching. It is undeniable that Wieters would represent an improvement offensively over a Durham promotion, and as such Maile is still unproven at the major league level. Maile isn’t considered an elite defender, but he would save you a few runs defensively.
Also in his favor: A Wieters signing would also allow the Rays to take their time as Ramos returns from injury and not rush anything. Once Ramos is able to catch it could be a very productive time share, with opportunities for Wieters to contribute at 1B or DH if needed.
Wieters and his agent Scott Boras would have to come down from their initial demands for a deal to come to fruition. It is telling that Jason Castro caused a small bidding war and was one of the first free agents to sign due to pitch framing and Wieters is still sitting around on the open market.
I rather have the Rays pick up Mike Napoli or Chris Carter as a way of spending the approximately $10MM they likely have available in the bank to make an addition. If Wieters accepts a deal that values him as a one win player, though, there might be the upside of two wins that could improve the 2017 Rays.