When talking to Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette earlier this week, he said something that really struck me.
It wasn’t the sentiment conveyed, but the wording he used that that made me pause.
Here was the exact quote:
“We lost Matt Wieters, who had been a big part of our operation for a while. But we’ve been able to sign Welington Castillo, who I think is going to do a pretty good job at catcher for us. He shows good power. He’s shown good defensive capability, especially throwing, so I think we’re gonna be strong there.”
This isn’t about Castillo, who was a pretty solid acquisition, I think.
It’s the “we lost Matt Wieters” part that I’m hung up on.
Because, frankly, to lose something, means there’s no obvious way to get it back. Wieters, at last check, is still a free agent and could return to Baltimore if both sides so desired. He has always maintained an interest in remaining with his original club. But my sense is there’s always been a split within the organization regarding Wieters’ potential return.
Given how Duquette phrased the wording Tuesday – similar to what he said when Castillo was signed in December — it appears that he has completely moved on from Wieters. And that’s interesting because Duquette rarely shuts doors.
Yet, from the beginning, it was clear he wasn’t waiting around for Wieters. Instead of biding time until the perceived asking price came down – the way Duquette did this offseason with Mark Trumbo and last winter with Chris Davis – the GM signed Castillo in mid-December to a one-year, $6 million deal with a $7 million player option for 2018.
At first, what that action said to me is that Duquette thought Castillo was a better buy – less money for a younger catcher who might be a better offensive player right now.
But now I think what Duquette was saying with that move is that he believes Castillo is a better all-around catcher period – no matter the cost. Because, theoretically, if this were just about the perceived high price tag on Wieters, the Orioles would be back in the market for him now that it likely has dropped. Castillo’s not playing 162 games, after all.
Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras, has made a career of finding the best financial packages for his clients, and just when you think he has waited himself into a corner, Boras often emerges with the deal that he envisioned all along. Contrary to public opinion, Boras keeps his negotiations close to the vest – and then often springs a big deal with a club no one was expecting.
And maybe that happens again here. There is precedent. But there just doesn’t seem like a lot of obvious landing places remaining for Wieters. I refuse to count out the Washington Nationals, even though it has been reported multiple times that they’re no longer looking for a catcher. Boras’ clients have a way of finding themselves with a big paycheck in the nation’s capital.
You also can’t count out the Los Angeles Angels, who could use a good veteran catcher and, incidentally, are the hometown team of the Boras Corporation. Although Anaheim is roughly 3,000 miles from Goose Creek, South Carolina and from Atlanta, Wieters’ former home and his current one.
The Nationals are a contender with an excellent pitching staff and their expected starter, Derek Norris, is not close to the defensive backstop that Wieters is.
Without question, Wieters would be the Angels starter, but does he really want to go to a team that doesn’t appear to be close to contention for several years?
Again, I never say never with Boras, but it’s hard to imagine Wieters will command anything near the three-year, $24.5 million deal that the Minnesota Twins gave pitch-framing darling Jason Castro.
I’m not sure I could find many scouts that would choose the 29-year-old Castro (a career .232 big-league hitter with 62 homers and a 26 percent caught-stealing rate) over the 30-year-old Wieters (a career .256 hitter with 117 homers and a 33 percent caught-stealing rate) when it comes to the whole package. But Castro hit the jackpot early this offseason and Wieters, who is considered below average at pitch-framing, is still looking.
The thought now is that Wieters may have to re-establish himself as one of baseball’s best all-around catchers and hit the market again next year. So, he might be looking for a one-year, pillow deal.
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.
Joseph, an incredibly unselfish player, would be able to work alongside Chance Sisco, the club’s top prospect who needs to improve his defense before getting the call to the majors. It certainly would help Sisco to have a guy like Joseph there for guidance. And, if something were to happen to Castillo or Wieters, then Joseph would be a tremendous insurance policy.
Plus, I sort of think the Wieters’ situation will evolve into Nick Markakis 2.0. Not many realized the kind of impact on and off the field that Markakis had until he left after 2014. The Orioles are still looking for a right fielder and someone to get on base at or toward the top of the order.
I think the same may end up being true about Wieters’ departure. Because of the lofty expectations placed on him when he first signed, he’s often viewed as a disappointment. And, yes, there are flaws in his game. But he’s exceptionally steady, is a good influence on the pitching staff and always seemed to deliver a big hit when needed.
Castillo reportedly has a great work ethic and is a good clubhouse presence as well. But how he meshes with the staff won’t be known until there is no going back. Therefore, adding the Baltimore-tested Wieters on a one-year deal seems like it would make the Orioles better in 2017 and wouldn’t block Sisco, which was one of the reasons Wieters was expendable initially.
The Wieters Dynamic seemingly has changed in the last few months. But reading into Duquette’s comments this week, his mindset hasn’t.
When Castillo was signed, Wieters was lost. Duquette says he’s still lost.
But, if the terms he is seeking have dipped, I say it’s time to find Wieters and bring him home again.