07 November 2014

Should the Orioles Trade Matt Wieters?

In the beginning of the 2014 season, it appeared that the catching position would be the least of the team’s worries. Through May 10, Matt Wieters was hitting .308/.339/.500 in 112 plate appearances (a 134 wRC+), along with his normally steady defense.  Then came the elbow injury, which turned into Tommy John surgery, which ended his season. Duties behind the plate fell to Nick Hundley (acquired through a trade with the Padres), Caleb Joseph, and Steve Clevenger.  Not a single one of Wieters’ replacements hit even a little bit (all had a wRC+ of 72 or 73), but Joseph was able to provide good value through excellent defense, particularly when it came to pitch framing.
Matt Wieters (photo via Keith Allison)

The surprising play of Joseph led some to wonder whether it would benefit the team to trade Wieters this offseason. Since Wieters will be a free agent following 2015, it may make sense to see what kind of return the Orioles could get for him.  If you factor in his projected salary (MLB Trade Rumors expects Wieters to get $7.9 million in his final year of free agency), then exploring the trade market for Wieters could make sense.

Hopefully you already knew this, but Matt Wieters is a very valuable player (15.4 career fWAR in 5+ seasons).  Having said that, it’s hard to say what kind of return the Orioles could get for him.  On one hand, there are several teams who could use an upgrade behind the plate and Wieters is a catcher that gives you above average offense and defense at a premium position.  On the other hand, he only has one more year of team control and he’s coming off a major injury.  Speculating the return of a trade never works out well, but I’d cautiously guess that at this time it may consist of a B level prospect and a lottery ticket in the low minors, although the deviation in that estimate is high.

If the Orioles decide to trade Wieters, they can replace him via free agency, through a separate trade, or internally.  Russell Martin is the premier free agent on the catching market.  However, he’ll be 32 years old, will cost more in money (and years) than Wieters, and will cost a draft pick, making him an unlikely replacement.  After Martin, the free agent market for catchers shakes out like this:

The free agent catching market after Russell Martin (photo via Moyan Brenn)
Additionally, it doesn’t make sense to trade for a major league starting catcher, when you just traded away your major league starting catcher, so that doesn’t appear to be a viable option either.  This leaves the Orioles filling a potential catching vacancy internally, most likely with Caleb Joseph.

Outside of a magical five-game stretch in August where he hit 5 of his 9 home runs, Joseph didn’t impress with the bat, hitting .207/.264/.354 (a 72 wRC+) in 275 PAs.  However, he was worth 0.8 fWAR, on the strength of his defense.  Having only played in the majors for essentially half a season, Joseph’s defensive numbers are subject to a small sample, but if you compare his Fangraphs Defense number to Wieters per every 500 PAs, he comes out ahead by almost 4.5 runs.  However, that the Defense statistic at Fangraphs doesn’t include pitch framing, something that Joseph excelled at in 2014.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Joseph saved an additional 12.1 runs through framing in 2014.  Projected over 500 PAs, that comes out to 22 runs saved.  For comparison, Wieters has averaged 2.6 framing runs saved per 500 PAs over his career.  When you include the additional value of pitch framing, the overall value of Joseph and Wieters is virtually the same, as our own Jon Shepherd explained quite well back in August.

Despite the appearance that Joseph will provide similar value, I don’t believe the Orioles should trade Wieters this offseason for several reasons.
  •  Trading Wieters this offseason is basically the definition of selling low.  Granted, most teams would love to trade for him, but I’d be surprised if any team would offer a package of players that a player like Wieters would normally command.
  • Paying Wieters the projected $7.9 million in 2015 won’t hurt the team’s budget, especially after a 2014 trip to the American League Championship Series.  In fact, unless they need to clear some payroll to bring in Yasmany Tomas, there isn’t a free agent on the market (at a position of Baltimore’s need) who is worth using the additional money on.*
  • Taking Wieters out of the lineup in favor of Joseph could pose a problem, especially if the Orioles plan on keeping Jonathan Schoop at second base.  And although it didn’t seem to be too much of a problem for most of 2014, two everyday players with OBPs around .250 are two too many.
  • Despite an outstanding defensive showing, Joseph’s 2014 season (and major league career) was based off a very small sample size.  Considering his well-below average bat, the Orioles would need to be very confident in Joseph’s defensive abilities to name him the starter based on 82 games of defensive data, especially since he didn’t carry a reputation of a defensive catcher throughout his minor league career.

There’s an argument to be made that trading Matt Wieters (and allowing Caleb Joseph to be the starting catcher) is a sound strategy to strengthen the team’s future outlook without sacrificing the opportunity to be competitive in 2015.  However, for the reasons outlined above, it’s not an argument I can fully support.  Matt Wieters should be the Orioles' 2015 opening day catcher, and if Caleb Joseph can repeat his defensive accomplishments, it will make it that much easier for the Orioles to allow him to leave via free agency. That being said, I think now may be the perfect time to try and sign Wieters to an extension.

*I’m assuming an extra $8 million won’t help the team sign Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, or James Shields, nor do I think they would sign a pitcher to a long term contract after the “Ubaldo incident of 2014”


Philip said...

Excellent article. I agree completely.
The only question I have is about Joseph's projected offense.
In the minors his virtues were reversed, with good offense and bad defense.
I don't know why the defensive projections were so wrong, but what are the chances that his lousy offense was an aberration?
If he can improve, and Wieters signs an extension(unlikely, because Boras) we could conceivably trade Joseph for a good return.

Matt Perez said...

Wieters should be 100% healthy and ready to play at the beginning of Spring Training. Teams will have the opportunity to see him play and see for themselves whether he's healthy before the regular season starts. A good Spring Training showing should restore nearly all of his value.

His trade value is very low at the current moment but could increase significantly before the season starts.

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Nate Delong said...

Phillip - thanks. The defensive projections on Joseph in the minors weren't as good because it's difficult to can be difficult to assess pitch framing without the use of Pitch F/X. Offesnively, he had some good seasons in AA, but didn't hit much in AAA either (only 171 PA's). He may hit better, but I wouldn't expect too much improvement given his age.

As for a return for Joseph, you can look at the recent Astros/Angels trade that sent Hank Conger to the Astros for a potential 4/5 starter and a defense oriented minor league cathcer. Conger was a better pitch framer in 2014 than Joseph, and hit a little better too (though not much). So even with a modest improvement, I wouldn't expect a substantial return for Joseph.

Matt - that's an important point. his value could return fairly quickly with a decent spring

Nate Delong said...

the one thing I only briefly mentioned but maybe should've expanded on (maybe another post). Whether a trade of Wieters is a good idea really depends on what the potential return is. The wasteland that is the free agent catching market could up Wieters trade value even with his injury. Like i stated, I'm not sure how the trade market views Wieters. If someone is willing to overpay given the limited supply of good catchers, that could obviously change the equation.

John Weis said...

Good analysis, but Joseph's defense was about more than just framing pitches. Mention should be made of his excellent .404 caught stealing pct.

Anonymous said...

On thing that is kind of interesting about how statistics are presented in baseball is that they are done so without recognition of variability.

I am not sure why a throwing out percentage should be carried out to .404. Maybe just .4

Nate Delong said...

John - thanks. And you are correct. Joseph's defense is more than pitch framing. The Defense value for catchers at Fangraphs that I cited in the article includes runs saved due to passed balls and stolen base prevention, which he rates higher than Wieters (still a small sample for Joseph though)

Erik said...

PitchFX may be underrating the difference between Wieters and Joseph/Clevenger/Hundley. The Orioles staff ERA change could be entirely because of the change in catching. If so, Wieter's bat cannot compensate for the difference to ERA.

At that point we are talking about maximizing the return on Wieters just to do so. Not to re-sign. Some DH with the excuse of "extra rest"?

Anonymous said...

A full year of Wieters would net the same return as two months of Andrew Miller (B level prospect)?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Perhaps. Also, Miller made about $2 million in 2014. Wieters will probably earn around $8 million. That's not an insignificant difference.

Anonymous said...

Resign him now, while his value is still relatively low

Anonymous said...

Scott Boras. He isn't signing.

Offer him in trade. Who knows. No value offered, hold.

The window is still open for this team so if he performs then he can help behind the plate and augment the offense. If he just plays it out then you offer the QO if justified.

What bothers me about the Orioles is the lack of depth in the farm system. While everyone will point to Bundy and Harvey they both are coming off arm injuries. Sisco could be the answer here but we need a little more in the way of data points to reach that conclusion. Which ultimately leads me to wanting to convert Matt and Chris Davis into assets for the immediate future.

But again, no value offered hold both for now.

Anonymous said...

Wieters is worth more than a B level prospect. There are probably only about 20 catchers in baseball at most who are legitimate catchers. It is a difficult position to fill. Just look at the money AJ Pierzinski makes. Wieters is a scarce kind of player. Scarcity increases value.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Sure, he might be worth a bit more than that. But he's coming off a serious injury, and he's only under contract for one more season. What team is going to give up a lot for that?

Eric said...

Good article. Probably one of the toughest descisions to make for any team in the offseason. This would have been a question regardless the injury but it just makes it harder.

My worry is Wieters is still a good catcher, when healthy, but he seems to be very inconstant with what he brings each season. Previously his defensive stats were great while his offense struggled (at least based on what was expected, fair or unfair). But then last season he finally hit very well, but the defense if I'm correct, seemed to diminish (even slightly). That's why keeping him is tough, which Matt do you get and which do other teams value and want to trade for?

All in all, I am caught in between but would probably settle for riding it out this year to see what happens in his play, and hope he can either help the team progress and maybe win, then hope for a chance to negotiate a good deal, or get to compensation pick.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a season where Wieters is rested and catches fewer than 100 games, and maybe even DH's regularly (even if that means carrying an extra catcher). Also, every aspect of his defensive game is outstanding EXCEPT for his atrocious pitch framing. Seriously, can someone point this out to him?

Anonymous said...

Pitch framing is not really a skill that can be improved much and Wieters is average at it. He is a fine catcher and there are few of them out there. When teams are willing to plop down 24 million and a draft pick for Cuddyer, why do we think Wieters at 8 million would only bring back a guy like Chance Sisco? I think there is a big disconnect here. Teams hand out 10 million dollar contracts to boom or bust pitchers quite often.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Again, Wieters not only has just one year left of team control, but he's coming back from a major injury. He's a very good player, and maybe there's some leeway on how much a team would deal. But expecting a big haul for him isn't realistic.

Nate Delong said...

generally trying to estimate a return on a trade is difficult to do, mainly because every team looks at the potential trade target differently in terms of value, making the range of who they are willing to offer in return quite large in some cases.

I still stick by my estimate of a B prospect and a lottery ticket, but i did mention in the article that I wouldn't be surprised if the deviation for that guess is high (they could do much better than that or much worse)

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. When Wieters got injured in 2014, the O's were playing 0.500 baseball. Without Wieters, the O's played 30 games over 0.500. So, they did pretty well without him. Joseph as you stated is much better at framing than Wieters. Also, Joseph is one of the best in the league at throwing out runners (consequently, many more runners are hesitant to even run)--much better than Wieters. Also, everybody always said Wieters calls a great game. Then, with that logic, apparently Joseph not only call a good game, but even better than Wieters. Obviously, the O's are not good at selling high, the obvsious candidates the last couple years were Davis and Johnson, but neither were traded after their career years, and then they came back to earth and had very little trade value. I say trade Wieters now. The extra thing a team would get is a first round pick if he did not sign to an extension. The O's have several very good catchers in the system, and I don't think Wieters is worth 100 million for 6 years (especially without knowing if he can come back fully from the injury and whether the batting in 2014 for the small sample was indicative of the future or was just a small sample--since it deviated from his batting tremendously from the previous years.

nutsberryfarm said...


Anonymous said...

Buck is not expecting writers to be ready for 2015. Who are these 'very good' catchers? I see no one who can hit their weight or frame well or throw anyone out well enough to justify runs of 0 for 21 regularly,.... Plus the padres have a catcher to deal,.... Tho o's should get grandal and let writers dh til he is ready or play first