At first blush, the New York Yankees signing this weekend of free-agent catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal could be considered good news for the Orioles, at least as it pertains to catcher Matt Wieters.
For one, the deep-pocket Yankees have, at least for now anyway, filled their hole at catcher, meaning the position shouldn’t be a priority in the 2015 offseason when Wieters can be a free agent.
Also, although five years and $85 million would be the largest contract ever given out by the Orioles in terms of average annual value (Adam Jones received an $85.5 million extension, but that was for six years), those terms were not really unexpected for the 30-year-old McCann. So it’s not as if he turned the catching market on its ear with this deal.
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That, of course, won’t matter much to Wieters’ agent, Scott Boras, who certainly will see Wieters’ potential earning power to be more like that of San Francisco’s Buster Posey – who signed a nine-year, $164 million extension this year – than McCann.
Argue the point all you want about Posey and his Most Valuable Player success with the Giants, but I guarantee Boras will build a case for Wieters to approach or pass Posey’s contract if Wieters reaches free agency. And I’ve been around this business too long to underestimate Boras when it comes to getting top dollar for his clients. One team always seems to meet his asking price.
So the money’s not what is concerning about McCann’s signing from an Orioles perspective. It actually has little to do with the Yankees and a lot more to do with the Atlanta Braves, McCann’s former team.
If there’s one club that Wieters -- a South Carolina native who grew up as a Braves fan and went to college at Georgia Tech in Atlanta -- would view dreamily, it would be the Braves.
In my countless dealings with Wieters, he doesn’t strike me as a guy who needs to get the biggest deal. And he’s not one that’s going to blindly follow someone else. He is very much his own guy.
Wieters and Boras have a good relationship, and Wieters certainly will listen to his adviser. And Boras, obviously, has the reputation of taking most of his clients to free agency – but not all go. Ultimately, the decision is going to be Wieters’.
With that in mind, my belief has always been that Wieters would sign an extension with the Orioles before he reaches free agency. Baltimore fits his low-key, no-fuss persona; he has no interest in being a large-market celebrity.
Baltimore fits for plenty of other reasons, too. The 27-year-old Wieters, his wife and son live in Sarasota, where the Orioles have spring training. His parents still drive up to Camden Yards on plenty of summer weekends to see his games. He’s got that hometown feel on a team that looks to be competitive for years to come.
Not many other major league teams can offer a more enticing overall package. The Braves might be able to, though, especially if they need a catcher after 2015.
Frankly, they could make a push for Wieters now.
I didn’t put much stock into rumors that the Orioles could potentially deal Wieters this offseason – seemed like nothing more than the usual and clichéd “due diligence.” First, the Orioles would want an ace or potential ace in return for Wieters, and most teams don’t have that available.
And the club that would acquire Wieters would have to be willing to take on roughly $17 to $20 million in the next two years knowing that the catcher could become a free agent after 2015. So any trade partner would have to be a team with money, a deep pitching well and the belief it could either sign Wieters to an extension or not care that it might lose him after two seasons.
Add in the fact the Orioles stress defense and have no obvious replacement for the Gold Glove winner Wieters behind the plate, a trade seemed unlikely. Especially now that Carlos Ruiz and McCann – the two available free-agent catchers that were strong defensively and offensively – are no longer available.
So, yeah, dealing Wieters seemed like a remote possibility. Yet the Braves do have plenty of young pitching. And the Orioles have a vast knowledge of Atlanta’s system now that Dave Wallace, the Braves’ former minor league pitching coordinator, is the Orioles’ pitching coach and Dom Chiti, a former Braves’ special assistant, is the Orioles’ bullpen coach.
The Braves may decide to stick with last year’s rookie sensation Evan Gattis (who is roughly three months younger than Wieters) at catcher. But if they wanted to get a jump on Wieters’ sweepstakes, they’d be one of the few teams that could possibly pull it off.
Ultimately, McCann’s decision to leave Atlanta for the bright lights and big money of New York may not affect the Orioles at all. But, then again, it may have created major competition for Wieters in the future.