By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
10:26 PM EST, January 16, 2013
With center fielder Adam Jones signing an extension last summer and Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette getting their contracts extended through the 2018 season, the club's most intriguing lock-down target is now catcher Matt Wieters.
Both sides would like Wieters to remain in Baltimore for years to come, but no formal extension discussions have occurred.
"I've always been interested [in staying long-term in Baltimore]," Wieters said Tuesday, a day before the organization announced the extensions for its manager and executive vice president. "I'm a huge fan of Baltimore and what Buck and Dan have done. It's something to where it's a great baseball town, it's a fun place to play and it's a place where I enjoy playing."
The 26-year-old catcher, who has made the American League All-Star team each of the past two seasons, is not eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season. So, technically speaking, there is no rush.
"I'd hope he'd be a long-time Oriole. He's a good, solid player for the team. And he is a good leader, too," Duquette said. "I don't know about the timing or the market, but Matt's a key player on our ballclub."
This offseason, Wieters enters his first year of arbitration and is looking at a significant increase from the $500,000 he made in 2012. Various projections suggest he'll make roughly between $4 and $5 million in 2013. The two sides will submit figures for arbitration Friday if they can't settle on a salary before then.
Assuming Wieters, a two-time Gold Glover, continues his defensive excellence and builds on last year's highs in homers (23) and RBIs (83), while improving his .249 average and .329 on-base percentage, his earning potential as a catcher would escalate exponentially. He likely would have an annual salary well above $10 million before he approaches free agency.
So trying to lock him up within the next year or so would allow the Orioles to spread out the millions and take away some free agent years while providing Wieters with more security. Although the lure of a huge, free-agent contract would be enticing, there are several reasons why remaining an Oriole is intriguing to Wieters.
From a personal standpoint, Wieters, his wife and newborn son make their offseason home in Sarasota, Fla., where the Orioles host spring training each year. His parents, who live in South Carolina, often make the drive to Camden Yards on weekends in the summer to see their son play. And, since being drafted fifth overall in 2007, he has developed strong relationships with several key Orioles, including Jones, Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson, J.J. Hardy and Showalter.
"It's always nice to be able to have talented players to play with, and especially to have a manager like Buck, and to learn from him and his experiences," Wieters said. "It is something nice, especially in baseball, where each year you play with somebody you feel more comfortable with them."
Since 2009, the club has agreed to extensions with Brian Roberts, Markakis, Jones and Hardy, and now Showalter and Duquette. Wieters acknowledges that management's commitment to its own players has not gone unnoticed.
"To have a manager like that and players like that [locked up], that definitely doesn't hurt," he said.
Wieters said he also has observed former Orioles greats, such as Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, and their relationship with the city and the fans. And it is something that appeals to him.
"Definitely. You look at the guys who come back, Cal and Brooks and Palmer and all the other guys that come back, and you see how special it can be to play with one team your whole career," Wieters said. "You see how a city, especially Baltimore, embraces that. It is special if you can find that team and everything falls in line. I'm not sure how God lines it up, we'll have to see."
Ultimately, the business side of baseball will determine what happens with Wieters. Perhaps the best comparison for locking up a franchise catcher is the Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer, who signed a four-year, $33 million deal in February 2007, when he was about to turn 24 and facing his first year of arbitration. Three years later, Mauer, coming off a MVP season, agreed to an eight-year, $184 million extension just before his 27th birthday.
Mauer, a St. Paul native, likely will stay in Minnesota for most if not all of his career — which was the Twins' primary goal. But the contract also illuminated the dangers of signing a catcher long-term. After an injury-marred 2011, Mauer played half of his 2012 games behind the plate and the other half at either first base or designated hitter. He is signed through 2018.
There's also another interesting wrinkle in a potential long-term deal with Wieters. All of his pro career he has been represented by Scott Boras, who has the reputation of steering his clients toward the free-agent windfall once they surpass six years of service time.
However, Boras has always maintained that his clients ultimately make the call on their futures. And two of Boras' marquee clients, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver and Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, eschewed the lure of future free-agent dollars to sign extensions with their clubs in 2011.
"I do have Scott working for me and I'm confident he'll be able to get me the best information, along with what the Orioles provide, to make the best decision," Wieters said.
In Wieters' typical team-first mentality, he said he is not worried about an extension — or pushing for one. His focus is on the upcoming season.
"I'm very confident with Dan and with Buck, and that all of us are committed to working for this year," he said. "And if the pieces line up [for an extension], they'll line up. But I'm confident we're all working toward putting together the pieces for our team in 2013."
Duquette, for one, is in full agreement with his starting catcher.
"Our future is now, right now," Duquette said. "We have some good core players on the ballclub and we'll do what we can to keep our team strong."
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