Major League Baseball's GM meetings are often used by executives to lay the foundation for free-agent signings or trades that will be completed later in the offseason. According to a rumor from Fox Sports, the Baltimore Orioles may be prepping a blockbuster deal.
Sources: #Orioles willing to trade Wieters. Both Wieters and Chris Davis two years away from free agency and represented by Scott Boras.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 13, 2013
On Wednesday, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Orioles are willing to trade catcher Matt Wieters in a deal this winter, citing the need to protect themselves from the impending free agency of both Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis after the 2015 season. Complicating things for Baltimore: Both players are currently represented by super-agent Scott Boras.
When speaking to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun on Monday, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette foreshadowed the eventual rumor.
“There’s a lot of moving parts now so there’s a lot of opportunity,” Duquette said. “Our staff has worked hard to identify players who can help the club and hopefully we can sign a few and we should be able to identify which ones we match up with other clubs with potential trades.”
Before reading that quote, the rumor can be shocking. Since arriving in Baltimore during the early portion of the 2009 season, Wieters has been the sixth-most valuable catcher in the sport, per Baseball-Reference's WAR calculations. His 87 home runs during that span rank second among backstops to Brian McCann, a current free agent that could command a contract in excess of $100 million, according to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York. Defensively, only Yadier Molina (9.9) and Russell Martin (6.8) have accumulated more dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) than Wieters (6.1) since his debut.
Of course, Wieters hasn't been perfect. Touted as "Mauer with power" by Sports Illustrated, the 27-year-old Orioles catcher hasn't become a game-changing offensive force. Over the span of 2,610 career plate appearances, Wieters is the owner of a 98 OPS-plus and an underwhelming .739 OPS. There is still time for him to develop a better offensive game, but comparisons to Joe Mauer stopped long ago.
Yet, as noted above, Wieters has been, and will continue to be, valuable. His defensive work behind the plate ranks among the best in the game, just behind 2013 Gold Glove winners in Yadier Molina and Salvador Perez. While he hasn't been a top-tier offensive performer, no catcher in baseball hit more home runs than Wieters in 2013. If he's on the trade block, suitors will line up to procure at least two years of his talent before Scott Boras and free agency arrive.
After winning 93 and 85 games, respectively, over the last two seasons, Baltimore profiles as a team close enough to championship contention that adding, rather than subtracting, should be a point of emphasis this winter. Yet exploring trade opportunities for Wieters could afford it the chance to accomplish two tasks at once: Freeing up long-term money for Chris Davis' bat and adding an impact starting pitcher to a group that desperately needs one.
Now that we've covered the what and when of potential Wieters rumors, two questions remain for this story: Who and how?
The following three trade destinations are the best fits for Wieters and provide the best opportunity for Baltimore to maximize his value in a return:
1. Baltimore trades Matt Wieters and relief pitcher Jim Johnson to the Detroit Tigers for right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer.
This, folks, would be a blockbuster.
Detroit is stuck between financial concern and trying to compete for a World Series title. The idea of moving Max Scherzer, a year away from free agency, is conflicting for general manager Dave Dombrowski, but this deal would have to be considered by the Tigers.
First, Wieters' impending free agency would delay a major financial decision by one year on Detroit's ownership. Scherzer is set to embark on free agency after 2014, but Wieters won't be free until after 2015.
From a baseball perspective, Wieters would represent an offensive and defensive upgrade from Alex Avila. Despite a poor 2013, Jim Johnson could bring some stability to the back end of Detroit's bullpen, especially after Dombrowski announced, per Fox Sports' Jon Morosi, that Drew Smyly would be moved to the rotation next season.
For Baltimore, acquiring Scherzer would change the dynamic of the American League East. After a career-best 2013 (21-3, 145 ERA+), the right-handed ace would provide the Orioles with a dominant starter to match the 200-inning arms featured in New York, Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto. Of course, Scherzer's impending free agency would hit Baltimore before Wieters' could, but the potential of a postseason series in Camden Yards headlined by a pitcher of this caliber could be too much to pass up.
Before suggesting that this deal is too big and too much of a risk, remember that Dan Duquette is the general manager who traded for Pedro Martinez twice.
2. Baltimore trades Matt Wieters to the Texas Rangers for right-handed pitcher Neftali Feliz.
The Texas Rangers are very, very interested in upgrading the catching position. According to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, free-agent catcher Brian McCann could land there on a lucrative, long-term deal.
While McCann is a superior offensive performer to Wieters, he's older and much closer to spending large chunks of time at designated hitter rather than behind the plate. If Texas could acquire Wieters for a fraction of the cost of McCann, it would be a boon to the Rangers' bottom line.
In return, Baltimore's front office could ask for Neftali Feliz. After profiling as one of the top prospects in the game in 2009, Feliz's stock has fallen due to injuries and a shift from the bullpen to the rotation, limiting his ability to properly develop.
It's unlikely that Feliz could morph into a 200-inning stud in 2014, but the potential of a young, fire-throwing rotation of Neftali Feliz, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman could make the 2015 Orioles the most dangerous team in the sport.
3. Baltimore trades Matt Wieters to the Oakland Athletics for right-handed pitcher Jarrod Parker.
Before truly exploring this option, Parker must be deemed healthy and ready to go for the 2014 season. When Oakland's 2013 postseason run ended in the ALDS, Parker's forearm issues were deemed minor and rest was prescribed by team doctors, per Jane Lee of MLB.com.
Two opposing managers this week called Jarrod Parker "elite." Last 18 starts, 8-1, 2.49— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) August 31, 2013
Beyond health, there's always a match when Athletics general manager Billy Beane is involved in trade talks. No GM can extenuate the value of a player and use certain skill sets to the advantage of his 40-man roster like the Moneyball star.
Sure, it would be nearly impossible for Oakland to extend Wieters' contract before 2015, but that didn't stop Beane from acquiring Matt Holliday from the Rockies in 2008. If Wieters' offensive skill set began to resemble the "Mauer with power" predictions, Beane could flip the switch-hitting catcher for a slew of controllable assets.
Should the Orioles trade Matt Wieters this offseason?
Although Parker would not be anywhere close to the performer that Scherzer has become, his value shouldn't be understated to Baltimore. Over the first 384 innings of his career, the 24-year-old righty has pitched to a 3.68 ERA. In 2013, the Orioles team ERA was 4.20, per Baseball-Reference. Parker would be an instant upgrade and isn't eligible for free agency until 2018, giving the Orioles cost certainty when negotiating a long-term deal with Chris Davis.
What would be a fair return for Matt Wieters?