30 January 2017

The Case Against Bringing Back Matt Wieters

The Orioles' signing of Welington Castillo signaled that they had moved on from Matt Wieters and were all settled at catcher. But Wieters is still a free agent, and some have speculated about his possible return to Baltimore. Until Wieters actually signs, that will keep being a thing. And while extremely unlikely, it's not impossible.

A few days ago, Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com discussed the possibility of the Orioles re-signing Wieters to "a one-year, pillow deal" to split work behind the plate with Castillo.

Here's more from Connolly:
And where do offensive players often end up when a one-year agreement is the best option? Camden Yards, of course.

In a sense, Baltimore suddenly becomes the perfect fit for Wieters in that one-year scenario. Their competitive clock is ticking, and their hope is they don’t need a long-term catcher.

Wieters, a switch-hitter, and Castillo, a right-handed hitter, could rotate at catcher and DH some, keeping both fresh and making Buck Showalter’s bench stronger. It would push Caleb Joseph to the minors, and though that would be unfortunate for Joseph, it wouldn’t be a terrible thing for the organization.
Who knows what exactly it would take to re-sign Wieters, or if he'd be willing to give the Orioles some type of "home-town discount" since there don't appear to be many teams out there extending enticing offers. And the Joseph-grooming-Chance Sisco angle sounds great -- Joseph is surely a professional -- but the Orioles also have coaches and Joseph is not without any value at the major league level.

Let's focus on the Castillo/Wieters potential fit. Castillo and Wieters are both healthy, so they're expecting to catch more than 100 games each next season. With a 2018 player option, Castillo is already on his own pillow contract of sorts. In this scenario, both players will want as much playing time as possible for the chance to excel and land a longer, more lucrative deal. That sounds like a pretty awkward situation; it's unlikely Castillo would have signed his deal if Wieters were still under consideration.

But, hey, having both catchers split the work seems like a decent idea, right? And as Connolly noted, Castillo is right-handed, and Wieters is a switch-hitter. Who doesn't love yet another platoon? Unfortunately, despite being able to hit from both sides of the plate, Wieters has been much better against lefties in his career:

Wieters career vs. RHP: 91 wRC+
Wieters career vs. LHP: 114 wRC+

Castillo has also found much more success against lefties:

Castillo career vs. RHP: 88 wRC+
Castillo career vs. LHP: 126 wRC+

That's not how you construct an effective platoon.

Since both players have hit lefties well, perhaps that could be a benefit when facing left-handed starters. Wieters or Castillo would start, and the other could DH. But that also has a few ramifications. First, it would push Mark Trumbo to right field. That's never a good thing, though that might happen anyway. Second, it almost certainly pushes Trey Mancini to the minors. That's not the worst thing, as it will already be difficult for Buck Showalter to find playing time for a first baseman/DH on a roster that has Chris Davis and Trumbo. But Mancini, while still a question mark, does provide a cost-effective bench bat, and he has shown the tendency to hit left-handers better in the minors. And third, while it's a much lesser concern, how often do you want your backup catcher in the DH spot in case something happens to the starter? Showalter hasn't opted to use Wieters much as a DH, choosing to give him more rest. Maybe that would change with another catching option.

Regardless, guys like Castillo and Wieters are valuable because they have the ability to hit while playing such a demanding position. You could work in some DH at-bats here and there, but it doesn't add much to their value. But it probably wouldn't be particularly helpful to have two catchers with pitch-framing abilities that are much in question.

If the Orioles have money available to bring Wieters back for a year, then it would probably be better spent on adding some starting pitching or outfield depth. (Right, Adam Jones?) Sure, there's comfort in familiarity, and the Orioles have demonstrated in the Showalter era that they do value clubhouse chemistry and fit. As someone who's been with the Orioles through the highs and lows, Wieters checks those boxes. But you also have to know when to say goodbye.

The O's have capable, cheap, and better-framing backup options in Joseph and Francisco Pena, and there's no reason to add Wieters back for anything less than a complete and total bargain (and how likely is that for a Scott Boras client?). If he does end up settling for a one-year deal, Wieters will likely be more interested in a situation where he can get the bulk of the innings behind the plate. That place, for the time being, isn't Baltimore.


Anonymous said...

No thank you!

Matt Bennett said...

Heaven help Dan Duquette if the Orioles end up spending over 12 million combined so we can have two-full time major league catchers on the roster when Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley are currently slotted to start 40% of Baltimore's games.