Not a surprise, the Washington Nationals and Matt Wieters are reunited for a second year. Wieters did not opt out of his contract.
Unless something crazy happens, Wieters is the Opening Day catcher in 2018. A foregone conclusion that is a mixed bag. He will receive $10.5 million next year before potentially returning to the free agent market.
Wieters came to Washington as a tough act to follow. Popular catcher Wilson Ramos left for Tampa after tearing an ACL while Derek Norris arrived via trade from San Diego. Although Norris had a down year in 2016, many felt he was adequate.
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At first, Wieters tore the cover off the ball. In April, he hit .301 with 4 homers and 12 RBI. By September, the batting average plummeted to .135. As the Nats tried finding their way on offense late in the year, he became an automatic out.
Yet, his game calling skills and handling of the pitching staff drew rave reviews. Gio Gonzalez’s bounce back season partially stems from the way Wieters coached him on the field. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg likely agree as they both are Cy Young Award contenders.
The consensus was when Wieters signed, besides whether Mike Rizzo wanted him, will he stay a second year? Offered a pillow contract, Wieters and agent Scott Boras thought a decent season and he grabs $15 million in free agency.
A slash line of .225/.288/.344 does not get $15-17 million on the open market. Frankly, $10.5 million for a player earning a -0.6 WAR is highway robbery. Wieters OPS+ last year was 63 or 37 percent below-average for a hitter.
Although Wieters is a decent catcher, champagne would flow on South Capitol Street if he opted out. The largest offensive problem the Nats have is at catcher and there is an albatross contract around the neck.
Wieters could bounce back and hit around .250 and slug 15 homers. He is healthy and 32. A solid year is not impossible.
But, after a bad September audition by Pedro Severino, there is no solid backup. Jose Lobaton is a free agent and Raudy Read’s defensive capability is not major-league ready. Although not as bad as the closer situation heading into 2017, it is a problem without an easy fix.
Considering Washington hates eating contracts, a Wieters trade will not happen unless the partner takes the full deal. Even then, the Nats need a catcher in return.
Given a second chance at a bigger pay day, Wieters could improve. Fatigue proved to be a factor as the season wore on. Unless his workload gets cut to around 100 games, expect more of the same.
One problem Rizzo and Dave Martinez must solve.