A year after catcher Matt Wieters surprised the Orioles by delaying his free agency for a year and taking the rare step of accepting a qualifying offer to stay in Baltimore, the team declined to give him an opportunity to do so again.
The club did not extend a qualifying offer to Wieters, their four-time All-Star catcher and 2007 first-round pick, making him a free agent. The Orioles will not gain a draft pick as compensation should he leave for another team.
They did, however, assign a qualifying offer to right fielder/designated hitter Mark Trumbo, who led the majors with 47 home runs this season. If Trumbo accepts, he’ll be paid $17.2 million on a one-year contract in 2017. If he declines and opts to test free agency for the first time in his career, the Orioles will get a compensatory pick at the end of the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
The Orioles haven't announced either decision, but industry sources confirmed each one after Monday's 5 p.m. deadline.
The moves, which come five days after the end of the World Series, begins an offseason where the Orioles’ major pieces of business come at the positions of the two players most affected by the qualifying offer system.
Unlike past offseasons, which have been defined by the team’s search for starting pitching, this year’s priorities will be defined by whether Trumbo and Wieters either return or need to be replaced.
Despite not giving Wieters a qualifying offer, the team can still re-sign him as a free agent. But the free-agent catching market is thin.
Instead of making a transition that would have give a larger role on backup Caleb Joseph after the 2015 season, the Orioles extended a qualifying offer to Wieters, who at that point was still slowly rebuilding his game and value after Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2014.
Wieters and Joseph split time in 2015, but with the market not as high as some thought it should be for a catcher of his pedigree, Wieters decided to become one of three players to accept the qualifying offer for 2016 and remain with his respective club.
Despite a spring training scare, Wieters’ elbow was never a problem in 2016. He played 124 games this year, though at the plate he was far from his best self. Wieters hit .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs, and had several game-winning hits over the course of the season, but on the whole posted an OPS+ of 87, the lowest for any season in his career.
He joins a free-agent class of catchers that became thinner when Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore his ACL down the stretch, and also includes Chris Ianetta and Nick Hundley. The Orioles are left with Joseph, who endured a miserable 2016 season, plus Francisco Pena, Audry Perez, and top prospect Chance Sisco as possible replacement options in their organization.
With Trumbo, the question now becomes whether to accept the qualifying offer for another year in a ballpark and clubhouse that he quickly grew comfortable in or test the free agent landscape for the first time at age 30. If he chooses the latter, he’ll be going to market on the heels of a career year that saw him make his second All-Star team while posting a career-high in home runs (47), RBIs (108), and OPS (.850).
His future positionally is probably at first base or as a designated hitter, as a full season in right field exposed some of his range limitations, but without Pedro Alvarez as the primary designated hitter this season the Orioles could stand to bring him back in a role that plays more to Trumbo’s strengths.
His decision may not be a difficult one. As one of the premier power bats in free agency, teams who can fit Trumbo onto their salary books and into their lineups may provide somewhere close to the $17.2 million figure on a multi-year contract. However, as a player who was traded three times in two years by the time he joined the Orioles, Trumbo placing a premium on putting himself in a place he’s happy and successful could swing the balance in their direction.
In either’s absence, the Orioles have a few regular spots in the lineup that could be used for the addition of a player with less swing-and-miss and more on-base capability than the players who are returning from one of the league’s most prolific but volatile offenses of 2016.
Trumbo has a week to inform the Orioles of his decision.
The New York Post first reported the Orioles' choices.