PORT CHARLOTTE — There was some amazement in Rays Land that Matt Wieters ended up getting $21 million guaranteed from the Nationals over two years, with the added benefit of an option to leave after one $10 million season.
There was no surprise that he ended up signing elsewhere.
The Rays had legitimate interest in Wieters as a power boost to their lineup and an upgrade to their season-starting catching corps, enough to have had an offer on his table for more than a week.
But, as is often their case, it was always within limits, based on how much the Rays felt he was worth and how they saw him fitting in.
And they had strong suspicions Wieters and agent Scott Boras would find more elsewhere.
Dollarwise, the Rays were willing to guarantee Wieters around $6 million with a chance, if all incentives were met, to squeak past $10 million. Obviously, with an opening day payroll projected in the low $60 million range, they could have gone further, though they tend to stick to their evaluations — and rarely ever win an auction.
But the Rays had good reason to offer no more than one year — as well as a team policy against player options/opt-outs (or no-trade clauses) — which is why they could only shrug, mildly disappointed at most, that Wieters went to Washington.
And that's because they have the All-Star catcher who Wieters, ironically, will be trying to replace in Washington, Wilson Ramos.
It was during the early December winter meetings that the Rays made the bold, and potentially brilliant, move of striking a two-year deal with Ramos.
Their gamble, for $12.5 million guaranteed plus $5.75 million in incentives, is that he will return sometime this season, and be back to top form in 2018, from the late September right knee injury that wrecked his breakout All-Star season and cost him potentially $50 million as the top catcher on the free agent market.
Until then — and it could be May as a DH but July until he gets behind the plate, and on a limited basis the rest of the season — the Rays definitely could have used Wieters, even if he has slipped from his past All-Star level both behind and at the plate.
The gist of their pitch was the opportunity to rebuild his value for another run at free agency next winter, with the benefit of staying in the AL East, playing near his Atlanta home and being on the receiving end of a really good pitching staff.
But the Nats gave Wieters, 30, more, including what the Rays couldn't: an appealing choice if he has a good year to opt out for free agency or, if not, to stick around for 2018 as the starter making $11 million. (The Rays, meanwhile, would have the better catcher for less guaranteed in 2018.)
So where does this leave the Rays for now?
Given that they passed previously on Derek Norris when he was readily available in trade, they likely wouldn't have much interest in taking him off the Nats' hands now, nor ex-mate Jose Lobaton, who figures to stay in Washington as the backup. And finding frontline catchers in spring training is even harder than other times, unless something truly unexpected happens.
So that means the Rays most likely will go into the season with some combination of Curt Casali, Luke Maile and defensive-oriented Jesus Sucre (acquired from Seattle) sharing, and biding, time.
Manager Kevin Cash insisted they can feel good about that, based on offseason work and expected improvement. "Very good," he said. "We're very content with those guys."
Ultimately, how they play will tell us how big a loss Wieters was.
AROUND THE MAJORS: Major League Baseball approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal — rather than forcing a pitcher to throw four balls — for an intentional walk, effective for the 2017 season, ESPN reported. Earlier, commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB intends to push forward with the process that could lead to rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound and would act unilaterally if need be. Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. … Alex Rodriguez, reporting for his first day as a Yankees spring instructor, said he is definitely retired and has had "zero" itch to return to his majors. … Jim Joyce joined John Hirschbeck, Tim Welke and Bob Davidson in retiring from MLB's umpire staff. Adam Hamari, Pat Hoberg, Gabe Morales and Carlos Torres were promoted to the full-time staff.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.