The Twins Daily 2016 Offseason Handbook was released on Monday, and is now available for immediate download. The ebook includes dozens of free agent profiles covering players available at every position, but one of the biggest focuses is catcher, which is perhaps Minnesota's most glaring need.
The top name on the catcher market this winter is an intriguing one... Maybe the most intriguing we've seen in a long time.
Matt Wieters was the fifth overall pick by the Orioles in 2007 draft, and within a couple of years he developed into the No. 1 prospect in baseball. A switch-hitting catcher boasting solid receiving skills to go along with power and plate discipline, Wieters looked like the whole package, and many viewed him as the player that would supplant Joe Mauer (who was enjoying his MVP season when Wieters came into the league in 2009) as the game's best backstop.
He didn't quite fulfill that immense promise, but Wieters did hit .255/.319/.420 with 87 home runs while appearing in two All Star Games over his first five seasons in the majors. Elbow problems in 2014 led to Tommy John surgery, and the recovery process limited him to 101 total games over the past two seasons. Still, he kept hitting when he was on the field, and his arm looked fine after he returned this summer. There are inherently going to be question marks surrounding a guy who has missed as much time as he has recently, but Wieters has done enough on the field to minimize those concerns.
His market this winter is going to be interesting. He's hardly a superstar but he's really the only bona fide starting catcher in the free agent field. And it's just not very often that you see players of his pedigree and youth (he doesn't turn 30 until next May) openly available. The competitive bidding among clubs that are looking to improve at catcher could dissuade the Twins from pursuing him very seriously.
But there's no doubt that it's something they need to consider.
In the Offseason Handbook, we estimated a Wieters contract at four years and $60 million, which is roughly in line with the 4/64 estimate that MLB Trade Rumors laid out last week. In our Twins Daily Offseason Blueprint within the Handbook, we actually suggest signing Wieters, because his appeal is obvious. He's the rare example of a long-term core player that can be added at a somewhat reasonable price through free agency, and with the Twins organization sorely lacking for any kind of legitimate prospects at the position, his addition would shore up the most obvious weakness in the system.
But in order to take the plunge on Wieters, Terry Ryan and the Twins would really, really have to be believers in him. He would require a substantial investment.
For starters, his theoretical contract would be the largest ever given to a free agent by this franchise, surpassing Ervin Santana's $55 million deal last year. And even our (and MLBTR's) estimate might be on the low side, given that his agent is Scott Boras and Minnesota isn't necessarily viewed as the most desirable of destinations.
Adding Wieters would also mean relegating Kurt Suzuki, who is owed $6 million in 2016, to strict backup status, and committing upwards of $20 million to the catcher position next year. That's a tough pill to swallow, but I think most (including Twins brass) would agree that Suzuki shouldn't be assured any kind of role based on his contract. He was a backup-caliber player this year, through and through, and that has largely been true throughout his career.
The final impediment with Wieters is that signing him will cost the Twins a draft pick, since the Orioles are expected to make him a qualifying offer. In tandem with Santana last year, that would be two straight offseasons in which the Ryan forfeited a high pick to sign a free agent to a long-term contract. This would be extremely uncharacteristic, but if the Twins are truly making an all-out push for contention mode, and are fully committed to addressing their hole at catcher with authority, all options need to be on the table.
Fortunately, if the sacrifices necessary to land Wieters are deemed too great, there are plenty of other options out there. Nobody outside of him in free agency really projects as a reliable full-time starter, but there are some players that would be strong fits in a time-sharing scenario with Suzuki, offering the potential to move into a more regular role. Those players – guys like Alex Avila, A.J. Pierzynski and Dioner Navarro – are probably the ones that Ryan and the Twins will target more aggressively on that front.
But there are also some rather compelling trade possibilities. We'll take a look at some of them in the coming days and weeks.
If you want to learn more about Wieters, as well as the rest of the free agent crop and numerous trade targets, please consider picking up a copy of the Offseason Handbook today. With 101 pages of dynamite content, it's a must-have for Twins fans as Hot Stove season officially gets underway.