The Oakland A’s have “checked in on free agent [catcher] Matt Wieters,” reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
The A’s also showed interest in Wieters last winter, before he eventually signed with the Cardinals on a minor league contract and earned $1.5 million. He went on to post a poor overall batting line at age 33, though he was within reach of average production for a catcher (85 wRC+) and at least maintained some of his usual power.
Wieters, 2019: .214/.268/.435, 81 wRC+, 11 HR, 6.6 BB, 25.7% Ks
Once a four-time All-Star in his prime, Wieters has shifted toward part-time and backup duty the last couple years. He hasn’t been even an average overall hitter since 2015, and he’s been rated as one of the worst defensive catchers in the majors each of the last three years by Baseball Prospectus. But to his credit, he just played 67 games for a St. Louis team that went to the NLCS, and they reportedly want him back. In fact, he was part of playoff teams in three of the last four years, for three different organizations.
At the very least, it’s easy to see where Wieters would fit into the A’s plans, between his veteran status, his switch-hitting bat, and his reliably decent production.
Oakland currently has three promising catchers on their 40-man roster, but the group is short on experience. Top prospect Sean Murphy and recent trade acquisition Austin Allen have combined for just 54 major league games in their careers, and fellow prospect Jonah Heim has barely even played at Triple-A. Adding a steady and knowledgeable veteran to that young mix could be beneficial at a such a crucial position, and it would also allow Allen and Heim to open the season in the minors to continue their development.
Furthermore, it would make sense for any veteran addition to bat left-handed. Murphy is expected to be the A’s primary starter in 2020, and he’s a righty hitter. Slotting in Wieters to face some tough righty pitchers on Murphy’s days off would help give Oakland the platoon advantage more often, especially in a lineup that already skews right at nearly every position.
On top of all that is the matter of Murphy’s injury history. He’s got the early makings of a budding star, but he did miss substantial time in 2019 to due to his knee (torn meniscus), and he’s dealt with some other maladies in his young career. That might make it wise to manage his workload in 2020 (an idea noted by Slusser in her writeup), and also to find a backup with whom they’d be comfortable giving significant playing time in an emergency. While Wieters’ recent numbers don’t jump off the page, his bat has at least been average for a catcher in five of the last six years. The last time Oakland got at least average catcher production at the plate was 2016, so average would be a step up for the green and gold.
Slusser suggests that the A’s “probably aren’t looking to go more than $2 million-$3 million” for their backup catcher, which precludes any big splashes at the position. They were previously connected to free agent Stephen Vogt before he signed with the D’Backs for $3 million, and they non-tendered incumbent Josh Phegley and his $2.2 million estimated price tag.
Analysis: I don’t have much of an opinion on Wieters specifically, but he generally checks the boxes. I agree the A’s should add a veteran catcher to back up (and hopefully mentor) Murphy, I agree they shouldn’t spend much on this stopgap, and it would be cool if he batted lefty. At this price range, how much can you really hope for? If the answer is a former star still on the right side of 35, who has a habit of going to the postseason most years, then that would be fine.