Matt Wieters Should Accept Another One-Year Deal This Winter
Last winter, Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters became one of the first three players to ever accept a one-year qualifying offer instead of opting for free agency. It made sense as to why he did it, too -- injury forced him to play in just 101 games between 2014 and 2015, and while he was already entering his age-30 season in 2016, getting a full year of play to rebuild value was the best option for his long-term earning potential.
Fast-forward a year later and Wieters should seriously consider doing the same thing for 2017, even though it's likely the last thing he and agent Scott Boras want to do.
Instead of rebuilding his on-field value in 2016, the backstop put together a disappointing performance in what was a rather potent Orioles lineup.
Plate Discipline Is Slowly Getting Worse
As a hitter matures in the big leagues -- especially those who get promoted at an early age like Wieters (was 23 years old at the time of his MLB debut) -- they tend to slowly get better from a plate discipline perspective. That hasn't been the case for Wieters.
Here's his progression since the 2011 season, when he was elected to the All-Star game for the first time in his career.
The numbers fluctuate a bit, but at the end of the day, no real progress has been made.
Wieters is swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone, but making contact at the same rate. He's swinging at more pitches inside the strike zone, which is a good thing, but his contact rate has dropped over five percentage points when comparing to 2016 to 2011. Understandably so, his overall contact rate has decreased while producing a double-digit swinging-strike rate two years in a row after not doing it since his rookie season (10.6% in 354 at-bats).
That's not the kind of progression a team wants to see from a former top prospect with eight years of experience in the big leagues.
Overall Offensive Numbers Are Suffering
After seeing the above table, it shouldn't be shocking to find out that Wieters' overall offensive production also hasn't been stellar.
Once again, here's what his numbers look like from 2011 to 2016.
Since playing a position like catcher is more demanding than any other on a baseball diamond, it's unreasonable to expect Mike Piazza-like production from a backstop. And really, what Wieters did from 2011 to 2013 was plenty. Sure, virtually all his numbers steadily decreased, but his power production was consistent and his 10.9 total fWAR is pretty impressive.
In a lineup that also included Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Adam Jones and others last year, Wieters didn't need to be "the man" for Baltimore to be successful. That's good, because he was nowhere close to it.
New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley ended up performing better in the wRC+ department (92) than him, which is pretty eye-opening since it took Headley over a month to record his first extra-base hit last year.
Either way, for teams interested in his services, they'll be looking at his big-league experience, 20-plus homer pop at the plate and how he handles a pitching staff as reasons to potentially sign him.
Unfortunately, he doesn't help his hurlers very much in the pitch-framing department.
Pitch-Framing Is Another Issue
We live in a world where a catcher like Jason Castro, who has posted a career OPS of .699 during his six-year big league career, just signed a three-year, $24.5 million deal with the Minnesota Twins because he can help a pitching staff with his pitch-framing ability.
Since Wieters' overall offensive value isn't what it used to be, it'd be a good idea to make up for it in other places, like behind the plate while donning the tools of ignorance. His 11.6 Defensive Rating is the best it's been since 2013, and he did save three runs with his glove, although that can be a bit deceiving.
Pitch-framing isn't a strength of his, and it showed in 2016. Here's a comparison of the top two pitch-framers from last year -- Buster Posey and Yasmani Grandal -- with regard to Runs Above Average (RAA) and Wieters (data courtesy of StatCorner):
So, when Wieters catches a ball inside the strike zone, it was called a ball 14.2% of the time, and when he caught a ball outside the strike zone, he earned a strike call for his hurler just 6.7% of the time.
Although the calendar technically says 2017 and Spring Training is just over a month away, a lot can happen between now and then. Wieters will probably find a home soon, and teams like the Washington Nationals (per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports) and Arizona Diamondbacks (per Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic) are still interested in his services and are monitoring the backstop's market.
There's no doubt he and Boras are holding out for a multi-year deal after taking a one-year contract just last winter. When considering the total package, he's a solid player, but it's tough for an organization to justify committing to more than 2017 for a catcher entering his 30s with already declining offensive numbers and not overly impressive pitch-framing marks -- especially for a National League club.
Every player wants to play under more than a one-year guarantee. However, taking another one-year flyer at least gives Wieters a chance to rebuild value and test the market once again next winter. With the way this offseason is going, he may end up not having a choice.