Wieters, Nats agree to two-year deal

Joe Demeis, Staff Writer

According to ESPN,  the Washington Nationals signed four-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters to a two-year, $21 million deal on Tuesday; it was a bargain.

Besides Carlos Santana and Russell Martin, as a catcher, Wieters has hit the most home runs since 2009 (117). Wilson Ramos, the Nationals’ catcher for the past seven years, declined Washington’s  qualifying offer and was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays in the off season. Ramos led the Nationals to the NL East Title last season; he hit .307 with 22 HR and 80 RBI. Yes, it will be difficult to match Wilson Ramos’ very productive 2016 campaign. Wieters has never batted .300 or posted a .850 OPS in his career, but very few catchers put up numbers like Ramos this past season.

Wieters is definitely an upgrade from catcher Derek Norris. The Nationals acquired Norris from the San Diego Padres in December. Before the signing of Wieters, the Nationals planned to use Norris as their starting catcher for the 2017 season. Norris struggled with the Padres in 2016; he hit .186, which was the worst batting average among all MLB players with at least 450 plate appearances. However, he posted a .270 batting average with Oakland in 2014 and was an All-Star. The Nationals felt like he had the potential to bounce-back this year.

Defensively, Wieters is solid, despite his lack of ability to frame pitches and the fact that he had Tommy John  surgery in 2014. According to Baseball Reference, he has thrown out 32.74% of runners in his career and  35% of runners in 2016. Wieters ranks thirteenth all-time for caught stealing percentage. Derek Norris, on the other hand, has a career 26% caught stealing percentage and only threw out 21% of runners last season.

Signing Wieters was a good move by the Nationals. Washington doesn’t have to make any long-term commitment. He can opt-out of the contract after the first year.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is very optimistic about the future with the addition of Wieters:

“He [Matt Wieters] came in kind of with a bang and he was one of the best catchers around, then he got injured. It looked like last year when we played him he was an offensive force. It gives us another big bat in the lineup, and to my understanding he calls a good game and handles a pitching staff well.”

The Nationals have a lot of depth at the catcher position. They still have 32-year old Jose Lobaton under contract for $1.575 million next season and Pedro Severino playing in the minors on top of Norris and Wieters. Derek Norris was drafted by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2007 MLB draft. He was traded to the Athletics for left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez. As the 2017 season nears, it looks like Wieters will be Washington’s starting catcher, and Norris may be leaving D.C. once again.