A few months ago, several readers blasted me for suggesting that keeping Matt Wieters — or at least presenting a $15.3 million qualifying offer to the potential free agent — should be a priority for the Orioles.
You see, Wieters was aging – almost 30 — and couldn’t hit anymore, I was told. His arm, which was his best defensive tool, was compromised because of Tommy John surgery. Oh, and defensive metrics showed he was a below average pitch-framer and was an overrated signal caller.
From what many readers told me, Wieters was not nearly as good as his backup, Caleb Joseph, who was a lot less expensive.
I usually lose these arguments because, well, I usually give up. My attempt at reasoning is no match for the passion of fans, and that’s OK. The passion of Orioles’ fans is what has allowed me to make a living over the years.
So I let them make their points. And I respectfully disagreed.
My contention at the time was that Wieters was an exceptionally valuable member of the Orioles’ franchise. I saw the same numbers the critics saw. I also talked to people in the game, including many of the Orioles’ pitchers.
One of the most important parts of my job is to talk to players away from the microphones, away from the cameras. Allow them to give me perspective without it coming back at them. That allows me to understand certain intricacies, so I can have a better, more informed opinion. And none of those players were OK with seeing Wieters leave – and it’s not simply because he was their buddy.
It’s because they wanted to win. And they felt like having Wieters starting behind the plate, and Joseph there to spell him whenever needed, made the club much stronger. That wasn’t so much a reflection on their faith in Joseph or the other catcher on the roster at the time, Steve Clevenger.
It’s not that the other players didn’t think Joseph could do the job. They wanted both him and Wieters, an All Star who knows how to handle pitchers, snuffs out a running game and has the ability to hit. Even if his numbers in recent injury-riddled seasons weren’t great.
Wieters took the Orioles’ qualifying offer in November – it wasn’t much of a risk for him. He was betting on his own health, and that he could be the player he was pre-surgery.
Flash forward to now: Thanks to a torrid recent run, Wieters headed into Saturday slashing .292/.333/.451 with four homers and 16 RBIs. More important, he’s playing more often behind the plate and his defense has been noteworthy. His catcher’s ERA is 3.28, which is 13th overall in the majors and third among players with at least 25 starts at catcher.
Perhaps what’s more impressive is that Wieters is 4-for-8 in throwing out would-be basestealers. What stands out to me are the eight attempts. Teams are respecting his arm again.
In comparison, Joseph has caught 7-of-22 before Saturday, a 32 percent rate, but with nearly three times as many attempts in fewer games. Joseph’s catcher’s ERA is 4.59 in 21 games, that’s 55th in the majors among all catchers heading into Saturday. And he’s struggling at the plate, batting .177 with no RBIs in his first 62 at-bats in 2016.
The Orioles believe in Joseph and view him as a contributor even if he isn’t hitting, because of his great leadership skills and knowledge of the game.
But it’s pretty clear that the club is in a better position right now with Wieters still on this team.
When I wrote my piece months ago, several readers said the Orioles needed to let Wieters go and use that money to bring back Chris Davis. But the Orioles now have them both for this year. And they also have slugger Mark Trumbo, whom the Orioles acquired by trading Clevenger, a player they no longer needed because of Wieters’ return.
Yes, it’s too early to say I told you so. A lot can happen in the next few months.
But my contention last offseason was that a healthy Matt Wieters makes this club a lot better. And I’m sticking with that story.