One of the realities of the end of a Major League Baseball season is that no matter how good a team is it won’t be the exact same the following year.
These 2016 Orioles have been an impressive tale of resiliency and redemption.
But whether they lose early in the playoffs or go all the way to the World Series, some pieces likely will be elsewhere in 2017.
Home run leader Mark Trumbo is a free agent, so is designated hitter Pedro Alvarez and newly acquired outfielders Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs, relievers Tommy Hunter and Brian Duensing, outfielders Steve Pearce and Nolan Reimold and infielder Paul Janish.
But the big one, the one that will be the most impactful news if his Orioles career comes to an end soon, is 30-year-old catcher Matt Wieters, who has been with the organization since being drafted in the first round out of Georgia Tech in 2007.
He admits he has no idea what it’s going to be like if he is not in an Oriole uniform next year.
“I’ve only known this (Orioles) clubhouse,” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll get to that bridge when we have to cross it. I know going to battle with everyone in here has been a real joy in my life.”
Wieters thought he might be gone at the end of last season – in fact, we had a similar interview in Yankee Stadium last September about his potential departure. But the Orioles made him a qualifying offer of $15.8 million for one season and Wieters, who was attempting to come back from elbow surgery, accepted it in November.
This year, he’s been healthy, and has hit .241 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs. He’ll enter a weak free agent class in which he may be the most coveted catcher available now that Washington’s Wilson Ramos is dealing with a second surgery to repair the ACL in his right knee.
This year’s qualifying offer will be roughly $16.7 million and it seems somewhat unlikely the Orioles will extend the offer again, though if he rejected it and signed elsewhere, the club would get a supplemental draft pick (assuming a new collective bargaining agreement doesn’t alter that process).
The Orioles and Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras, spoke in generalities last month in Baltimore, but there were no tangible negotiations. Given Boras’ reputation of getting top dollar for his marquee clients, it seems unlikely that Wieters returns.
But that’s the thing. It seemed unlikely that he was going to return for 2016 and he did. So Wieters is not even considering a prediction. Too many things change during the offseason dance. He understands that explicitly after last year.
“It was different than I would have thought the process would have been last year and it’ll probably be different this year then I think it will be this year,” he said. “I don’t like thinking about things that I actually have no idea how they are going to go.”
True to Wieters’ personality – he’s one of the more consistent players I’ve ever covered – he’s focused on the current Orioles and his role in winning a title.
“I’ve got enough stuff on my mind now,” he said. “Right now I’m excited about focusing on playing baseball and playing as long as possible this year.”