Before the MLB offseason kicked off after the World Series, many viewed Matt Wieters as the best option on the free agent market for catchers. Wilson Ramos was there, but he is coming off a torn ACL and will not be ready for the start of the season. Jason Castro was also available, but he does not provide much in terms of swinging the bat. So at the end of the day, Wieters was poised to be the top name, especially after the Baltimore Orioles opted not to extend him a qualifying offer, meaning there would be no draft pick compensation attached to his name.
But the market has not developed the way Wieters and his agent, Scott Boras, would have liked. Jason Castro got scooped up extremely fast, signing a three-year, 24.5 million dollar deal with the Minnesota Twins. Wilson Ramos netted himself a two-year, 12.5 million dollar contract by way of the Tampa Bay Rays. Then the Washington Nationals filled their catching hole by acquiring Derek Norris via trade from the San Diego Padres. The Arizona Diamondbacks non-tendered Welington Castillo, and quickly followed that up by signing Jeff Mathis.
Then the kicker for Wieters was when Castillo signed a one-year deal with the Orioles for six million, plus a player option for the second year worth seven million. The Orioles clearly made the statement that they are ready to move on from the injury prone catcher, who has only played for the Orioles in his career after being drafted fifth overall by the team back in 2007. Throughout this entire offseason, there has been virtually no buzz on Wieters, which likely means he has yet to see his market develop. Following a sub-par season that saw him do nothing special with the bat or defensively, he could very well be looking at a contract that does not come close to what he wanted at the start of the winter. At this point, Jason Castro’s three-year pact is likely going to be around what the 30-year-old lands, at best.
But the key question is, which teams could be in the mix for a long time Oriole, now that his old club has virtually closed the door on a return? Let’s take a quick run through the divisions to see who could use a potential upgrade.
In the AL East, there are four teams we can comfortably feel safe in eliminating. Obviously, the Orioles are one of those clubs. The New York Yankees are locked in with Gary Sanchez behind the plate right now, and they do not have a full-time opening elsewhere to squeeze in Wieters. Also, the Toronto Blue Jays appear good with Russell Martin, while the Rays are banking on Ramos coming back from injury around mid-season to be their catcher. The Boston Red Sox, however, have an opening behind the dish, but their involvement will likely come down to the asking price, as they are not expected to spend big for a signal caller.
As for the AL Central, the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals should be good to go with their current options. The Chicago White Sox are more in a rebuilding mode, so any deal for Wieters would likely need to come at a discount like their recent deal for Derek Holland. The Detroit Tigers become an interesting option, however. With their front office looking to shake a few things up, it cannot be completely ruled out that they would be willing to move on from James McCann for Wieters. I would not call it a likely scenario, but one that could certainly happen the longer Wieters remains a free agent.
Out West in the AL, the Houston Astros are all set after they acquired Brian McCann. The Texas Rangers would only get involved if they wished to use him as a DH if they missed out on Edwin Encarnacion. The Angels just acquired Martin Maldonado, who is by no means a stud, but they are not likely to be looking to spend on a position they just traded for. The Seattle Mariners find themselves in a similar scenario as the Tigers, and could easily pursue Wieters to upgrade over Mike Zunino. They did add Carlos Ruiz this winter, so it is unclear if they would simply turn to him as a starter if they are unhappy with Zunino, or if they would be willing to spend for Wieters, which would keep Ruiz in a backup role, where he is a better fit.
Now to the NL. In the East, the Nationals and Marlins will likely stand pat. The New York Mets appear set to give Travis D’Arnaud another shot, but they could become a dark horse here if the front office changes their mind later in the winter. The Philadelphia Phillies have the cash to spend, so I cannot rule them out either, given their starting option is Cameron Rupp. Finally, we have the Atlanta Braves. Wieters is from Georgia, and it would make sense this is where he would ideally like to land. The team has made a number of moves already this winter, and Tyler Flowers is not exactly a starter on any other club.
In the NL Central, we know the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates should be fine with what they have. The Cincinnati Reds are no likely to move on from Devin Mesoraco just yet, but like the Mets, cannot be ruled out 100 percent, even if it is unlikely. Finally, we have the Milwaukee Brewers, who are hands down the only likely candidate in the division. They are in the same boat as the White Sox, however, as they are in rebuilding mode.
The NL West is not exactly a good spot for Wieters to look. The San Francisco Giants have Buster Posey, the Colorado Rockies, and San Diego Padres have young guys set to start, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are with the Mets and Reds with Yasmani Grandal as their catcher. The Arizona Diamondbacks just got rid of Castillo and replaced him with Mathis as I stated above, so they are not actively looking either.
So when all is said and done, I would label the Braves and the Mariners as the most likely destinations. The Brewers, Phillies and White Sox could be three rebuilding type of teams who could surprise everyone and get involved as well. Finally, I would list the Tigers as the dark horse team to keep an eye on. Since the start of the winter, I have said he would be a Brave, so I have to stick with my gut. Things may take a while to develop for the former Oriole, so only time will tell.