Sep 28, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (32) hits a one-run rbi single in the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Red Sox 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Could a Matt Wieters Deal Be in the Cards for the Rays and Orioles?

The Tampa Bay Rays desperately need a catcher and their exasperation has been going on for a long time now. When Jose Lobaton‘s .239/.320/.394 line represented one of the best offensive seasons by a catcher ever in Rays history, you know that there is something off. Suddenly, there may be a player on the trade market that could fix that problem for the Rays. The issue: that player is Matt Wieters, and he plays for the Rays’ division rival Baltimore Orioles. Would the Rays or Orioles ever make that high-profile of an inter-division trade? Let’s see what a trade would look like and try to ascertain that to the best of our ability.

After being selected fifth overall in the 2007 MLB Draft, Matt Wieters was proclaimed “Mauer with Power.” That has not fallen into place. But even if Wieters has never become the player the Orioles thought he could be, he still has emerged as an above-average catcher the last three years. Since the start of the 2011 season, Wieters has a .249/.315/.434 line (101 OPS+) with an average of 28 doubles, 22 homers, and 77 RBI per season. Meanwhile defensively, Wieters has thrown out at least 35% of attempted basestealers the last three years and has established a reputation for being an excellent defender. Wieter never developed the necessary pitch recognition to be a superstar, but as a strong defensive catcher who also hits for power, Wieters is still a very hot commodity. And while Wieters is coming off his worst season in the major leagues, hitting to a .235/.287/.417 line (88 OPS+), there has never been a better time than now for a team like the Rays to swoop in and get him. Wieters is far from perfect, but the Rays have been waiting for a catcher at even Wieters’ level the entire history of their franchise. Could they make the Orioles a significant offer and try to make a trade actually materialize?

Wieters made $5.5 million his first time through arbitration and now has just two years left under team control. His agent is Scott Boras, and acquiring him would be for two years and two years alone. Nevertheless, the Rays would cherish every second and have to hope that by the time those two years are up, one of their catching prospects like Oscar Hernandez or Nick Ciuffo will be not all that far off from ready for the big leagues. What would they offer the Orioles? A prospect-centered package seems unlikely for the Rays, and the Orioles would more likely want big league-ready pitching in return for Wieters anyway. If they really wanted to get the Orioles attention, they could offer Chris Archer in a trade. Archer is coming off a great rookie year, going 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA and a 101-38 strikeout to walk ratio in 128.2 innings pitched, but pitchers always come with injury risk and Archer still is no sure thing to pan out. Archer made strides with his changeup in 2013, actually using it as his out-pitch for a couple of games, but he actually wound up using it less in 2013 (6.98% of his pitches) compared to 2012 (7.48%) according to Brooks Baseball. There were times when Archer was unhittable, specifically his stretch of two complete game shutouts in three starts in July, but as he continued relying on his fastball and slider very heavily, hitters were able to adjust to him and hit him relatively hard. Despite the concerns, the Rays are very excited about Archer’s potential and have him under team control for six more seasons, but could trading him be worth it in order to acquire a player like Wieters?

As strange as it may sound, Archer’s trade value is currently higher thanWieters’ because he has triple the amount of time left under team control. Even evening out the trade, it could look something like this.

Baltimore Orioles trade C Matt Wieters and LHP Eduardo Rodriguez to the Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Chris Archer and C Jose Lobaton.

Trading Wieters would be tough enough–how could the Orioles also trade one of their top pitching prospects? Yes, adding Rodriguez to the deal would not be ideal for Balitmore, but then again he is only their third-best pitching prospect behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Rodriguez is talented, but giving up a player who just cracked Double-A for a pitcher in Archer who has more upside and is coming off a great rookie year seems like a worthwhile trade-off. The Rays would also chip-in Lobaton, giving the Orioles a place to start as they try to piece together their catching situation without Wieters. On the Rays side, meanwhile, giving up Archer along with potentially David Price is a bitter pill to swallow, but with pitchers like Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome at the upper levels of the system and Rodriguez joining the fold, they would be able to get through it. As crazy as this package is, it could really be mutually beneficial.

However, there are so many questions with that proposed trade left unanswered. How serious are the Orioles about trading Matt Wieters? Would the Orioles ever deal Wieters in an intra-division trade even if they could acquire a pitcher like Chris Archer? Would the Rays even consider trading Archer to begin with? At the end of the day, though, there is the possibility that the Orioles and Rays could agree to a trade that fulfills a major need for both sides without sacrificing an excessive amount. The Orioles would receive the type of young pitching they covet and also gain the financial flexibility to pursue free agents while the Rays would finally fill their catching hole. The talk of Wieters being traded is likely overblown and the odds of the Orioles trading him within the AL East are even lower. But at the end of the day, if both sides are motivated enough, a trade could really happen.

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Tags: Chris Archer Matt Wieters Tampa Bay Rays

  • phattitudes

    No trades within the division is a great rule to follow. We should not be looking for offense at C. We do not need to give low cost cheap talent in Archer and Lobaton longer team control for a short term rental of an already high priced (in the Rays world) catcher. Wieters is better than anything we got but there are other good defensive catchers out there. One would be Hanigan from Cincinatti who is reportedly available. He had a high caught stealing rate but is offensively weak. Another who we could require in a Price trade would be Ellis from the Dodgers . Ellis also had a high caught stealing rate and is better offensively. He is also a bit of an offensive threat for a catcher and has 4 years of control left.

    If the Dodgers want another Cy Young winner on staff, they may be willing to put together a package centered around Ellis. Heck they even got another Rays need in their young closer Jensen. Package those two with some minor league prospects and the Rays can sweeten the pot to make everybody happy. That would be a great start the off season.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      Given what it would take to acquire Hanigan and what it would take to acquire Wieters, a move for Hanigan probably makes a lot more sense at the end of the day. Wieters is a good catcher, but when getting him would force you to watch Chris Archer or another young starter in your division rival’s rotation for six years, that is pretty tough.

      One thing I would like to critique, though, is that the Rays should be no means going for need in a Price deal. They should be getting the best prospects and young players they can and worrying about how they all fit when it comes to that. Maybe acquiring a third baseman doesn’t make any sense given the presence of Longoria, but if they acquire an outfielder or a starting pitcher, they would certainly find a way to make room.

      • phattitudes

        Prospects are generally the right answer. I might have got the cart before the horse on the way I stated it. I agree that one must in a trade is to get a highly rated prospect in the category of what you are giving up. In this case we would need a pitching prospect or 2 in return. Let’s say Zack Lee and one of any number of high potential pitchers in the Dodger system. At this point if you push to add a Pederson and/or Seager, they might balk. They just may be leaving the cupboard too bare. Here’s where you can suggest a roster product like Ellis and/or Jensen. It wouldn’t be all bad for the Rays. We may have to add a Gimenez and a PTBNL. If we get all prospects, great. If we get a prospect or two that we want plus a young roster player or two that fill needs, are cheap, and have control time left, that isn’t bad either. The Dodgers are in a unique situation and have those type players on their roster. The real question is “Do they really want Price?”, If they do, they have lots of different ways to bundle the pieces we get in return.

  • David Fields

    I would really like to hold on to Lobaton. He got a lot better in ’13, and I believe there’s more to come. Also, I agree with phattitude’s comments.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      Lobaton has really made major strides at the plate, but he is a poor defensive catcher and that makes it unlikely for him to be a starter, especially on the Rays. He had an incredible season and capped it off with the walk-off homer in Game 3 of the ALDS, but pending a drastic shift, it’s unlikely he will ever be anything more than a tandem catcher like he was last season.

  • TheRealRyan

    What about a deal centered around Hellickson? Three years of control left vs. two for Wieters. Both of them coming off of down years, but should have better days ahead of them. I would think we would have to add something more, but if we were serious maybe Helly would be a good enough starting point.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      The Orioles might actually agree to that–the Rays never would. Wieters is what he is at this point, a strong defensive catcher who never developed the pitch recognition to be a star. Hellickson, meanwhile, has shown reason for optimism that he will not only rebound from his rough 2013 but potentially be better than before. The Rays still see a number two type starter in him, and they would demand a significant return, certainly more than Wieters, to make a trade happen. The gap between what the Rays think of Hellickson and how teams view him after his rough year is why Hellickson is unlikely to be dealt.

      • TheRealRyan

        I’m a little surprised that you would say a 27 yo SP coming off of a down year shows reason for optimism that he will be better than ever, yet a 28 yo C coming off of a down year shows us he is what he is. Especially since C have the reputation for being late bloomers and taking longer than other positions to reach their offensive potential.

        I like Hellickson and have no problem keeping him, but I struggle to see a #2 in him. While he has shown some success with his ERA in years past, he never had the peripherals to back those numbers up. Last year, while worse than expected, we saw the regression of his ERA that most informed baseball fans had anticipated. Even last year when he had his career best K/9 and BB/9, his FIP was 4.22 and his xFIP was 4.15. He also has always struggled keeping his pitch counts down and working deep into games and has averaged less than 6 IP/Start. I think at this point expecting anything more than a mid rotation SP out of Helly over the next 3 years is setting yourself up for disappointment.

        Wieters has a good reputation defensively and has above average power. Looking at 2011-2012, he showed what he can be as an above LA bat and defender. He averaged 4.2 fWAR and 4.3 rWAR over those years.

        For me, I would gladly trade 3 years of a mid to back end SP who has never shown the peripherals to expect more, for 2 years of a C in his prime who has shown he can be a 4 WAR player. Especially considering that we have depth at SP and a need at C.

        • Robbie_Knopf

          Here’s the difference between Hellickson and Wieters: Hellickson has shown reason for optimism while Wieters has not. In 2011 and 2012, Hellickson vastly outperformed his preripherals, and we wondered what that meant, whether it was luck or a skill to force weak contact. This season, he got hit hard–but in doing so, he showed the ability to make his immaculate ability to beat his peripherals less of a concern. Hellickson’s curveball is becoming more and more consistent, and with his curveball as a third weapon, he can get back to the level he was at before and possibly even improve.

          When Hellickson’s curveball was working alongside his fastball and changeup, everything was clicking. He didn’t need long at-bats to retire hitters and he was going deeper into games. What prevented that from happening this season was that his fastball command, which had been one of his biggest strengths as a pitcher, mysteriously disappeared. But if that can come back to go along with his still outstanding changeup and stronger curveball, we are talking about a very good pitcher and one whose peripherals and ERA could be much more similar. Hellickson’s 2011 and 2012 seasons may have been partially due to luck, but there was a certain amount of skill in there as well. If Hellickson can get his fastball command back and keep harnessing his curveball, the luck will matter less and the skill will become even more apparent.

          Now let’s talk about Wieters. Yes, he had a bad year, but the issue is that he has never really had a good year. He has never surpassed a 110 OPS+ and he hasn’t managed an OBP as high as .330 since his rooke year. Wieters is lacking something big–pitch recognition–and he’s not about to find it. He hits for some power and he does that without striking out a ton, but he has never hit for average or gotten on base because he can’t hit breaking pitches effectively. According to Fangraphs, Wieters is below-average versus basically every single secondary pitch out there for his career–slider, curveball, changeup, and cutter–and Brooks Baseball explains that he has been overagressive against both breaking and offspeed pitches even while being patient against fastballs. That is going to limit what Wieters can do forever.

          Of course, Wieters still plays great defense, and one off-year doesn’t change that. But when you’re an enigmatic hitter whose defense is pulled into question as well, that certainly isn’t a good sign, especially given that money that Wieters is set to be making. Wieters’ performance will fluctuate from year to year, but he is what he is at this point–an inconsistent offense catcher who plays good defense. That’s still a pretty good player, but not any better than Hellickson should be. The extra year of team control gives Hellickson the tiebreaker when we’re talking about value.

          • TheRealRyan

            Hey Robbie, thanks for the response. I think at this point, we are just going to have to agree to disagree on these two players. You’re higher on Helly than I am and I’m higher on Wieters than you are. It happens.

            Since I don’t really think any trade between these two teams will occur, lets all hope you’re right on Helly and he takes a big step up next year and pitches like the #2 we all hoped he would become when he first came up. Keep up the good work.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            I’ll agree to a draw–and yes, this Wieters trade idea is more “pie in the sky” than anything else. Thanks for a nice discussion.