Last Friday welcomed us with the news that Matt Wieters preferred the confines of a one-year deal for 15.8 MM instead of braving the waters of free agency with a draft pick tied around his neck. While our BORAS system projected that his contractural value would be around 2/17, I had argued differently. My perspective was that his injuries were neither chronic nor did they appear to impact him during his limited playing time in 2016. If we assumed that the injury was a non-issue then we would have his value around six years and 90 MM. I had suggested that a club with money and a need should consider bidding that high for his services. That said, I also thought that it made little sense for the Orioles to retain him because Caleb Joseph was present and performing admirably. From that point a view, a Qualifying Offer made sense in that the Orioles did not need him and he could grab big money out in the marketplace.
Matt Wieters wound up with a different take. I assume that he thought the last couple seasons lost to injury hurt his value and that he is still young enough that a resurgent 2016 would net him big money. If that truly is his thought process then that might well be an issue because that would mean that the long term contract that he would be willing to sign right now is likely not available to him. It may mean that his quick assessment found that the open market did not bear him riches and the Orioles seem wary to do the same. This leaves the club with a few options with varying levels of a realistic chance at achieving those options.
Please do not steal the towels (chances at 85%)
This is the most likely option. In this situation Wieters and that 15.8 MM chunk of payroll sticks, which means he bounces around catcher, 1B, and DH. To me, the ideal situation would be to slot Wieters into a rotation with about 50% of games behind the plate, 20% at first base, and 30% at DH. I assume that with payroll drying up that Wieters will be one of the better solutions at first and DH, which is a little sobering (but so was the performance of the club's DHs last year). With a first half focus on catching, it is possible the club could turn him into prospects if out of the playoff race or a big piece trade to fill an open slot with an established starter (aka dealing from depth).
Impact on the blueprint: It was assumed that 42 MM was present to spend. This reduces available money to 26 MM. As such, I waive goodbye to retaining Steve Pearce or Matt Joyce. The absence of Byung-ho Park was decided by the posting process. Can the club fit Ben Zobrist and a pitcher under what is left? I think they could. It would require slightly shifting money toward the backend of contracts, but I think the club could snag Zobrist and, if they so insist, Scott Kazmir or spread it a bit on Zobrist, Ah-seop Son, and J.A. Happ.
Let's Dance (chances at 2%)
This is probably the ideal option. In this scenario, the Orioles are stuck with excess catching along with Wieters while needing a top flight corner outfielder. Meanwhile, the Astros are stuck with excess outfielders along with Colby Rasmus while needing a starting catcher. If Wieters signs a contract the Astros like and Rasmus signs a contract the Orioles like, then they can be dealt under the rules of the current Qualifying Offer system. What this requires though is that all players involved actually want to go to the other club and can be satisfied with the money being offered.
Impact on the blueprint: In this scenario, I think Rasmus gets bonus money and length, so perhaps five years and 80 MM. I would let the Ben Zobrist train leave at this point. This leaves 26 MM on the other parts. Resigning Steve Pearce, acquiring Ah-Seop Son or another interesting fringe outfielder, Matt Joyce, and J.A. Happ might be the best case scenario here. Rasmus is not an awful acquisition and it was rumored the club was hoping the QO on his head would lessen his asking price, so interest from Baltimore supposedly is there.
Ball and Chain (chances at 13%)
Sometimes you need to make lemonade out of lemons. In this scenario, I would suggest that the Orioles go all in with Wieters and sign him to a long term deal. My guess is that five years and 70 MM might well get the job done. Next, deal Caleb Joseph. Over 182 games, Joseph has a bWAR of 3.4 and an fWAR of 2.2. Neither of these metrics consider pitch framing which credits Joseph somewhere between 17.6 (stat corner) and 22.8 (Baseball Prospectus) runs saved. In other words, if you assume Joseph as a full time starter would play about 120 games then he would be worth about 1.8 wins according to current WAR metrics and an additional 1.3 wins with pitch framing. In other words, he is a fringe All Star catcher. That could be worth quite a bit to a team that values framing.
What makes Joseph particularly valuable is that the arbitration process has yet to recognize pitch framing as a skill of value. This means that Joseph will likely be earning a salary based predominantly on his bat and the title of his position. As such, he aims to make about 550k in 2016, 4 MM in 2017, 6 MM in 2018, and 8 MM in 2019. These numbers, I think, might be a little flattering to him with the arbitration process, but I think it makes sense. His true market value would be about 60 MM over this time, which is a surplus of about 42 MM. The club should easily be able to turn Joseph into one or more useful, cost-controlled pieces. Teams like the Astros and Cubs have pieces available for trade and could greatly benefit the Orioles. For instance, a deal of Caleb Joseph for Jorge Soler would lockdown a corner outfield position with an average or maybe better player who has major power potential.
Impact to the blueprint: The club would still have 26 MM to improve elsewhere and could legitimately add Zobrist, Happ, and Pearce or another fringe interesting bat to the club. It may well not be the most ideal situation, but it could vastly improve the club.
Wieters accepting the deal is not the best thing that could have happened to the club and it may well be quite horrible if the plan simply is to see what this season brings. If the club takes more of a long-term approach, then I see several areas where they can make the most of a poor situation and add value. One way would be to use some Orioles Magicks and deal for Rasmus. He is a good outfielder with the bat and in the field. He would pair up nicely with Adam Jones. Or, as I would suggest, the club should sign Wieters to a lucrative long term deal and then deal Joseph for a young, controllable bat. Just focusing on the Cubs, the target should be Kyle Schwarber, but the acceptable line should be Soler. Simply put, there is no need for two starting catchers on a club and Wieters acceptance makes the choice for the club. Now, it is the team's responsibility to recognize that fact and use it to their advantage.
One last thing to reiterate: I think it would have been worse if the club had not put the Qualifying Offer on Wieters.