Posted on December 19, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The best free agent catcher on the market at the start of the offseason, Matt Wieters, is still on the market. Surprisingly, there has been little chatter connected to Wieters throughout the offseason, and little clarity about where he may end up, even as we approach Christmas. However, recent rumors suggest that the Washington Nationals could potentially become the favorites to sign Wieters.
“Speculation is rampant in the industry that eventually Matt Wieters will land with the Nationals,” wrote ESPN‘s Buster Olney over the weekend. This would be a rather surprising revelation, as the Nationals are one of several teams that have addressed their need behind the plate by trading for Derek Norris. The thought process is that the Nationals could sign Wieters and then look to trade Norris somewhere else. Washington also has Jose Lobaton in place as a backup, as well as prospect Pedro Severino, who the team appears to like a great deal because of his defensive skills behind the plate.
On the surface, it would be unusual for a team like the Nationals to trade for Norris with the idea of making him their starter only to later sign another player at that same position and trade Norris somewhere else before he plays a single game with the team. However, Washington is in win-now mode with a window that could be as small as two years to make a serious push for a World Series, and so all options are on the table.
Since trading for Norris, the Nationals have praised his ability as a backstop and spoken of their belief that he can bounce back offensively after a poor 2016 season. But there’s no denying that Wieters would be a significant upgrade offensively over any other catcher on Washington’s roster. The lure of another big bat in the lineup alongside Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy could theoretically spur the Nationals on to sign Wieters.
Aside from Washington’s theoretical interest, the other important factor to consider is the lack of options for Wieters on the free agent market after so many other teams have addressed that position this offseason. Teams like the Astros, Mariners, and Angels that would have seemed like potential destinations for Wieters at the start of the offseason have all added a catcher this winter. Even small-market clubs like the Rays and Twins have added a catcher.
On top of that, a return to Baltimore is out of the question after the Orioles signed Welington Castillo last week. Orioles GM Dan Duquette went so far to say, “We wish him well,” when asked about Wieters following the signing of Castillo, ending any speculation that Baltimore could attempt to re-sign him to be their primary DH.
This leaves Wieters with few places to find a new home, which could cause his value to drop. The Braves and Rockies are the most obvious destinations, although both have already spent quite a bit this winter, so one has to wonder if they’ll want to commit a big contract to Wieters at this point. This could open the door to a team on the periphery, like the Nationals, to swoop in and sign Wieters, which is what makes these recent rumors plausible.
Agent Scott Boras, who represents Wieters, said during the Winter Meetings that Wieters may not sign with anyone until January, and so it could be a few more weeks until there’s any clarity on his situation. However, the Nationals need to be looked at as a viable destination for the top catcher on the free agent market. It’s not a scenario that makes the most sense, but it’s so crazy it just might work.