The Orioles will make qualifying offers to first baseman Chris Davis and left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen by the end of the week, but the decision on whether to make the same offer to catcher Matt Wieters has been one of the club’s toughest early in the offseason.
The team has until Friday at 5 p.m. to make Wieters a qualifying offer, and while they are leaning toward doing so, according to club sources, the Orioles' front office is still discussing it.
By giving the 29-year-old Wieters a qualifying offer, the Orioles are making him a one-year contract offer of $15.8 million. It also means the Orioles would receive a compensatory draft pick if Wieters signs with another team. It is designed to prevent teams that lose key players in free agency from going empty-handed.
None of the previous 34 qualifying offers made have been accepted, and superagent Scott Boras, who represents Wieters, Davis and Chen, isn’t the type to buck that trend.
Still, the initial hesitance of not making Wieters an offer is rooted in the possibility that he might accept it. Putting nearly $16 million on the Orioles' payroll for one player this early in the offseason could affect what the Orioles do the rest of the offseason.
Wieters’ recovery after having Tommy John surgery in 2014 took longer than expected. Even though the Orioles eyed an Opening Day 2015 return for Wieters, he didn’t come back until June 5. Upon his return, he gave the Orioles a spark – hitting .355 in his first 10 games – but his season slash line of .267/.319/.422 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 75 games was pedestrian.
Wieters threw out 31 percent of base runners, which was near the league average, but caught on back-to-back days just four times, and he hit just .182 in 13 games as a designated hitter.
Boras likes his players to test free agency, and Wieters is head and shoulders above the rest of the catcher free agents. He’s the best hitter, run producer, defensive catcher and game caller in an underwhelming group of free agent catchers that includes Dioner Navarro, Alex Avila, Geovany Soto and A.J. Pierzynski.
Given that fact, Wieters should be able to draw an attractive multi-year deal that could compare to the $16 million annual average salary he’d get next year from the qualifying offer. He’s long been linked to the Braves – he has a home in Atlanta and went to college at Georgia Tech – but the Nationals and Rangers are also looking to upgrade behind the plate and both teams could be possibilities.
Wieters will have a week to consider the qualifying offer, and in the case he accepts it – hoping to put together a strong 2016 season in which he can prove his health and test the market again next year – the Orioles will have one of the best catchers in the game behind the plate.
The only way the Orioles lose is if Wieters accepts the offer and then suffers a physical setback next year. If he signs elsewhere, they will get a draft pick. But the possibility of coming away with neither the player nor the pick will likely be the deciding factor in making Wieters a qualifying offer.