The hot stove season is mercifully drawing to a close.
Teams have shipped equipment to their spring training complexes. Some players are already in camp getting a head start on workouts. Others, however, are not so fortunate. Several free agents are still waiting to find a club. They don’t know where they will be playing next season. When free agents remain unsigned into February, that typically means bargain deals are in their future.
Matt Wieters is one such player. The longtime Orioles catcher hasn’t had much luck during his foray into free agency. Last season he avoided the open market, accepting the $15.8 million qualifying offer from Baltimore. His market has since shrunk considerably. Rumors have connected the veteran backstop to the Nationals, the Angels, the Brewers, and the Rays. Yet as the offseason winds down, teams start to creative. Could the Yankees make sense as a landing place for Wieters?
2016 Statistics: 124 G, 464 PA, .243/.302/.409, 17 HR, 88 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR
Age on Opening Day 2017: 30
Wieters is no longer the force at the plate that he from 2011 - 2013. At his peak, he was good for about 22 home runs a season. In 2011, he managed to amass 4.4 fWAR. He was as close to a steady middle-of-the-order presence as once could find. Things derailed early in 2014, when a torn UCL required season-ending Tommy John surgery. He returned in June of 2015, playing well enough to secure the qualifying offer.
His 2016 campaign wasn’t as promising. Wieters managed to swat 17 homers, showcasing his still impressive power, but lacked a well-rounded batting profile. He had a career-low walk percentage (6.9%), his injury-shortened season notwithstanding. His on-base percentage was among the lowest of his career. Wieters hit a fair number of balls out of the park, but struggled in most other areas.
Part of the problem was his propensity to hit the ball on the ground. Groundballs are easy outs. It’s tough for a batter to get on base when he routinely rolls over on the ball. This was especially troublesome during the middle of the season. Compare Wieters’ groundball rate with his percentage of hard contact.
There’s a significant disparity between the two in June and July. That soft contact over a prolonged period of time is incredibly frustrating. Yankees fans have definitely seen Brian McCann go through those slumps. It’s ugly. Wieters managed to correct the issue, but at his age, these problems make for red flags.
Such concerns likely explain his lack of a market. Is it possible that clubs don’t view him as a starting catcher? Are one-year deals on the table? If that’s the case then the Yankees should be interested. Gary Sanchez is ingrained at the backstop position, but Wieters would make for a major improvement over Austin Romine. He can still hit for power and catch, which nicely complement Sanchez. He also could play the role of mentor, a la McCann last season. Romine, in that case, becomes disposable.
This also would allow Kyle Higashioka time to develop at Triple-A. If Higashioka mashes and forces the issue, a one-year deal for Wieters wouldn’t stand in the way. If he’s hitting well, he could be traded. If he’s not hitting, then he could just be designated for assignment. Wieters for backup catcher seems like a no-brainer.
The hook here is that Wieters is probably looking for a starting role. His numbers weren’t great compared to his career-highs, but they were decent for the position. He should find the opportunity to start somewhere. Now let’s assume that for some reason he is willing to serve as a part-time player and play backup. He almost certainly wouldn’t want to do it for the Yankees, where Sanchez will start most games. McCann rarely caught down the stretch. There’s no reason to think Wieters would get more time behind the plate. He’s a fit for the Yankees, but the Yankees are no fit for Wieters.
There’s no doubt that Sanchez is the Yankees starting catcher—the question is who will play backup. While Wieters would be nice, the two don’t look prime for a deal.