The Washington Nationals might have struck a bargain when they brought Matt Wieters aboard last February. As his opt-out looms, they need to keep him for next year.
Wieters started Spring Training without a job and the Nats traded for Derek Norris back in December. Scott Boras pitched his client and Wieters took a deal offering him a way out after 2017. It is an option he is certain to use.
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As Pedro Severino struggles in Triple-A Syracuse and Jose Lobaton defining a bench player, the Nats need to do what they can to keep Wieters around. Difficult when you figure he should command between $12-15 million on the open market.
With Jayson Werth, Wieters, Joe Blanton and Oliver Perez’s contracts coming off the books, the pre-arbitration payroll next year is around $106 million. That includes Bryce Harper’s one-year deal and assumes Werth will not come back. If the front office wants Wieters, the money is there.
Although he struggles to throw out base runners, Wieters is well received by the pitching staff and hits the cover off the ball at Nationals Park. In 16 games, his slash line of .382/.460/.636 gives you an OPS of 1.097 and adjusts to 173. Those numbers win you games.
An All-Star last year, he will be under consideration again. His Adjusted OPS+ of 110 overall is his best since 2014. Wieters bat is back.
Wieters would be silly not to see what the market values him at. He is healthy and having fun. At 31, he has several productive years ahead and likely wants a longer-term deal. With Severino hitting .208 at Syracuse, the heir apparent is not ready.
Although Severino is under team control through 2023, his strikeouts are climbing and his ability to get on base is plunging. After a healthy .316 OBP in 2016, this year’s figure is .257. A 59-point drop.
Which means Wieters means more to the Nats than a stop gap. If Lobaton leaves in free agency, Severino will get the call to be the backup next spring but, as was the case this spring, there is no clear-cut starting catcher if Wieters leaves.
As catchers age they break down. Already the recipient of one Tommy John, the allure of returning to the American League and converting into a designated hitter has allure. With Ryan Zimmerman at first, there is no easy place to put Wieters except catcher.
It might be bumpy when the season ends, but the money is there to get an extension done. If Wieters will settle for a two- or three-year deal with another opt-out, expect it to happen.