Two weeks ago, the Washington Nationals made the move they internally discussed for months by coming to terms with catcher Matt Wieters on a two-year deal worth $21 million. Once the Baltimore Orioles signed Welington Castillo in December, a reunion between the club and Wieters was all but impossible. The Nationals were intrigued by the possibility of signing Wieters since the start of free agency and remained in touch with agent Scott Boras as the price continued to drop. For a chance to upgrade at a reduced price, it seemed like a no-brainer.
The last few years have been bumpy for Wieters since his strongest statistical season back in 2012, when he had a career high 23 home runs and 83 RBIs. Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, which sidelined him for nearly a year. This led to Wieters being one of the first players to ever accept a qualifying offer (along with Brett Anderson and Colby Rasmus, who also accepted offers in late 2015).
Wieters bounced back in 2016, appearing in the All-Star game for the fourth time in his career, while playing a crucial role in the Orioles’ return to the postseason.
Although the free agent market was dry for the top catcher available, Wieters did have options. Besides Washington, reported teams of interest included the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, and Milwaukee Brewers. Also, days before the reported agreement, Marc Topkin noted that there was an offer on the table from the Tampa Bay Rays. Those teams that pursued Wieters are all rebuilding as they continue to develop young talent.
Wieters is now 30 years old, right around the age where players receive their lucrative long term deals. Clearly, that did not happen for him, despite coming off a strong season in a weak catcher’s market. Wieters does have an opt-out after the 2017 season in case he has a successful season in Washington and wants to test free agency again. Joining the Nationals gives Wieters a chance to win, and he will be be on a grander stage to showcase his talent rather than a smaller market such as Cincinnati or Milwaukee.
Before Wieters’ arrival, Derek Norris, Jose Lobaton, and Pedro Severino were the catchers on the Nationals’ depth chart. As spring training games were set to begin, the time came for both sides to pull the trigger on the deal so Wieters could get to work on learning a new pitching staff.
Wilson Ramos, who left for the Tampa Bay Rays, was a major reason for the Nationals’ success last season. Ramos overachieved offensively, driving in 80 runs with an OPS of .850. Wieters is a better offensive player than Norris, who hit .186 in 125 games in 2016. Norris now becomes one of the better backup catchers in the league and can provide strong defense behind Wieters’ defensive inconsistencies.
The Nationals are a win-now team and should look to upgrade in every area possible at reasonable costs whether trade or free agency. Wieters fit that description. There is also no long-term commitment, which could be a benefit for Wieters or the team. The Nationals now have a surplus of catchers and could trade Severino for a closer, which has already been speculated by many.
Bryce Harper‘s time in Washington is ticking, and their best chance is to win before he enters free agency. The Mets will be in the division race and the Nationals offense better be ready with the arms in New York’s rotation.
The move that seemed ideal for all parties involved is now a reality. Better late than never.