Matt Wieters, who continues to recover from Tommy John surgery that was performed last June on his right elbow, is dealing with tendinitis in that elbow and may sit out from catching duties for a week. According to Showalter, it's too early to panic:
"Talked with Dr. Andrews today. It's normal. It's around a nine-month period. It's not a setback. I'm surprised we haven't had any of this before. He's not feeling anything acute or anything. Just after listening to him describe how he felt today, Richie (Bancells) on the safe side said just call Dr. Andrews.
"With all the time we have left, we thought it would be prudent to just try to get ahead of it. He's been doing a lot of things on the half field and throwing program. He's been doing things that he didn't do when he was healthy. There's been a lot there. His legs feel great, though. I don't think it puts anything in jeopardy, but we'll see."Wieters should end up being just fine ("there’s hope that this is just part of Wieters’ normal recovery process"), and this could all be a minor speed bump. But the tendinitis does slow down his recovery, and it puts his status to be ready for opening day in jeopardy. That's not the worst thing in the world, either. Wieters, who's in a contract year, obviously wants to put together a strong season in order to rebuild his value. The Orioles also want a productive year from Wieters. And he's clearly at his most useful when he's behind the plate.
Wieters has a solid defensive reputation, though he's not a well-regarded pitch framer. Catching is extremely demanding, and he's pretty good at it. But he's not good enough offensively to get by without catching nearly all of the time when he's actually in the lineup. That's part of the reason why he's only received 136 plate appearances at DH in six seasons (about 5% of his total plate appearances). Players like Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Santana, who barely catch anymore or have stopped completely (some of that being injury related), are all much better hitters. So Wieters needs to be behind the plate as much as possible. That doesn't mean the Orioles should force him into a full-time catching role if he's not physically prepared for it. And they aren't doing that, and are doing their best to be cautious and stick to a recovery program.
It's obvious that Wieters is much more valuable when he's catching. He has a career wRC+ of 98. In 2014, the average major league catcher had a 93 wRC+. The average DH? 106. And the O's already have several capable DH options. Delmon Young has a career 114 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Steve Pearce (138 wRC+ against lefties), Travis Snider, and Chris Davis will also see a number of DH at-bats. Perhaps the Orioles could give Wieters a rest by DHing him occasionally against left-handed pitching to also keep his bat in the lineup. He does own a career 122 wRC+ against lefties (and as is often discussed, maybe he should give up switch-hitting altogether). But that would negate much of Young's role, and that also assumes Wieters would be able to handle full-time work. Wieters would also probably be better off sitting than DHing anyway; he'd get to rest more, and the inclusion of his bat in the DH role isn't an added bonus.
The O's are seemingly more prepared for Wieters to sit more than normal than in previous seasons. Besides Wieters, the O's have four catchers on the spring roster: Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger, and two non-roster invitees in J.P. Arencibia and Ryan Lavarnway (Brian Ward was recently cut and is ticketed for Norfolk.). Because of his excellent defensive work last season, Joseph has the upper hand and is the presumed favorite to assume the backup role (which could quickly turn into main catching duties depending on Wieters's status). But the spot behind Joseph is up for grabs.
As Ryan discussed last month, Tommy John surgery is rare for position players, let alone catchers, and Wieters's value could very well drop. It's often repeated that Wieters was on his way to a career year offensively before he got hurt last season. And with a .308/.339/.500 line (134 wRC+) in 112 plate appearances, he may have been. Now Wieters has to overcome elbow issues while also trying to rekindle what was working for him pre-injury in 2014. The O's are counting on bounce-back years from some key players; Wieters is certainly one of them. But he should be given as much time as possible to recover, and his bat isn't needed in the lineup at DH.
Photo: Keith Allison