Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

A Rays deal with Matt Wieters makes sense — at the right price

PORT CHARLOTTE — There are several things we know about the Rays' interest in Matt Wieters, the former Orioles star catcher who surprisingly — check mlbtraderumors.com — yep, remains unsigned as camps open:

First, and most important, is the Rays are serious enough to have made an offer, likely for one year and certainly for millions of dollars less than what Wieters and agent Scott Boras are seeking.

Another is they believe they provide a great fit for Wieters. With the Rays, Wieters, 30, would have the chance to be the primary catcher but wouldn't be overused and have designated-hitter at-bats available; to stay in the familiar American League East (with 19 dates for potential revenge versus the O's); to sign a one-year deal for the opportunity to build value for a 2018 run at free agency in which he would have the benefit of/credit for catching a really good staff; and to play close to his Atlanta-area home, with the usual Florida tax benefits.

Also, the Rays could use him.

Wieters has his flaws, including poor pitch-framing. But his experience handling pitchers, his reputation for strong defensive skills and his ability to hit homers from both sides of the plate make him a considerable upgrade from the trio of Curt Casali, Luke Maile and Jesus Sucre the Rays will be using until/if Wilson Ramos recovers enough from offseason knee surgery to get behind the plate come July or later.

But here's the big thing neither we nor the Rays know:

How willing is Wieters to take their offer — even if creativity and incentives could push it past $10 million — and get into camp versus waiting to see if Boras can still find the tens of millions they were expecting going into free agency?

Boras is quite good at his job, and he has done this before, taking players late into the spring and then cashing in on multiyear deals that seemed unlikely, if not shocking.

He also has done a considerable amount of business, sometimes going straight to ownership, with several teams that might also be interested in Wieters, such as the Angels, Brewers and Nationals. (The O's say they're not, though some wonder.)

Wieters made $15.8 million with the Orioles last season, when he hit .243 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs, and a .711 OPS, improving after a slow start in his first full season following 2014 Tommy John elbow surgery.

Boras shared with Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal some of the data points he is using to sell teams on Wieters, including a to-date comparison to Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

More skeptical types have pointed out Wieters' statistics are better compared to the much more pedestrian Jason Castro, though Castro's $27.5 million, three-year deal with the Twins must look pretty good to Wieters right now.

The Rays are not going to offer Wieters the most money, certainly not more than the team-record $14 million they paid David Price in 2014, or the $13 million Evan Longoria will make this season, or likely not even the $10 million Carl Crawford got in 2010. Wieters isn't that, and he won't make that much difference.

The Rays hope that Wieters is getting antsy sitting at home, that he's willing to bet on himself to have a good year and cash in (think Ian Desmond in 2016), that he will see the value in what they have to offer rather than the money they are willing to pay him.

If so, they'll get Wieters' relatively big bat to boost a lineup missing Logan Forsythe, plus the benefit of his experience behind the plate, and his leadership and motivation. If they're in the playoff race, they can keep Wieters for the full year and eventually have him share time at catcher and DH with Ramos. If they're not, they can trade Wieters and recoup some of their investment.

For the Rays, there are lots of reasons a deal with Wieters makes sense. Just as long as it doesn't cost too many dollars.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

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