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.