The Cleveland Indians are looking to improve their roster. If the price of Matt Wieters continues to drop, is there a point in which they become interested?
The Cleveland Indians, like every team trying to compete in 2017, are actively looking for ways to improve their roster as the offseason winds down. One free agent who has not been discussed much this offseason is former Baltimore Orioles catcher, Matt Wieters. Wieters has had a solid MLB career to date, owning four All-Star selections, two Gold Glove awards, and a career slash line of .256/.318/.421.
In June of 2014, Matt Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery. He played in roughly half of the 2015 season and most of the 2016 season. He has yet to match his pre-Tommy John production, but his 2016 campaign was encouraging because he was able to play 124 games and somewhat resemble his former self. Wieters played for the American League in the 2016 All-Star Game as well.
Despite a decent amount of demand at the catcher position around the league, interest in Matt Wieters has been tepid. The Angels, Diamondbacks, and Nationals have expressed the most interest in Wieters thus far, but a deal with either of these teams has not progressed. The Reds have been talked about as a team in the mix for Wieters recently, but they would seem like a long shot to sign him, given their commitment to Devin Mesoraco.
With Wilson Ramos signing with Tampa Bay, the Nationals traded for Derek Norris. Derek Norris is coming off a poor 2016 campaign, and could easily shift into a backup role if he is outperformed. Los Angeles currently has Martin Maldonado slotted to start at catcher, so they would be able to offer Wieters a starting job and the bulk of the at-bats at catcher. Welington Castillo signed with Wieters’ former team, the Baltimore Orioles, this offseason, so they have an opening at catcher now too.
Despite not being connected to Wieters much, the Rockies and Braves are also teams who would also be able to offer a starting job to Wieters. Scott Boras, who represents Matt Wieters, plans to land his client a one-year contract for 2017 with the mindset that Wieters will perform well in 2017 to earn a multi-year contract next offseason.
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We are now into late January. Wieters still does not have a home. His price tag has clearly fallen below what he and Scott Boras expected it to be heading into the offseason. This is where the Indians enter the picture. Chris Antonetti, an analytics guru, is all about capturing market inefficiencies. If the Andrew Miller trade, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco‘s contracts, and Mike Napoli‘s 2016 season are not evidence of this, I do not know what is. With the price of Matt Wieters falling every day, at what point would he become a realistic option for the Indians?
It is not a secret that the Indians love Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez. The Indians have invested in Gomes. He is signed through the 2019 season with team options for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. For the Indians to even consider signing Wieters, they must believe that he is an upgrade over Gomes.
Looking at career statistics, Wieters owns a .739 OPS and 98 OPS+, while Gomes owns a .709 OPS and 91 OPS+. Looking at more recent trends, over the past two seasons, Wieters slashed .253/.308/.414 with a 92 OPS+. Over that same time period, Gomes produced a .205/.240/.365 line with a 57 OPS+. While this does show that Wieters is a clear offensive upgrade over Gomes, especially of late, Wieters hasn’t produced especially encouraging numbers recently either.
Looking at some of Fangraphs defensive metrics from 2015-2016, Yan Gomes appears to have the slight edge defensively. Gomes has saved five defensive runs, while Matt Wieters has saved zero. Both appear to be about equal at controlling the running game, having both thrown out 34 percent of runners trying to steal a base. Wieters does appear to be better at not letting the ball get behind him though. He allowed 0.002 passed balls per inning, while Gomes allowed 0.007 passed balls per inning. Wieters produced 1.1 dWAR, and Gomes generated 1.7 dWAR.
I think this gives Gomes a marginal advantage in defense, but it is slim at best. It is worth noting that Gomes has been praised by both the Indians pitchers and coaches for his exceptional ability to call a game and handle a pitching staff. This is something that cannot be quantified.
Matt Wieters is probably an upgrade over Yan Gomes. Gomes is probably the better defensive catcher, but the difference between Wieters and Gomes offensively favors Wieters significantly. Over the past two seasons, Gomes has arguably been the worst starting catcher in the MLB offensively.
With this being said, it is still highly unlikely the Indians would offer Matt Wieters a contract. Carrying three catchers on the roster is not realistic, and I believe the Indians front office likes Gomes and Perez too much to cut or option either of them. If the price on Wieters continues to drop though, it might be something to keep an eye on.