photo: Matt Wieters and Ozzie Albies (Tommy Gilligan/Imagn)
On Wednesday, the St. Louis Cardinals are expected to finalize a minor league contract with free agent catcher Matt Wieters, according to multiple media reports from Jupiter, Florida, including from Rob Rains of StL Sports Page and Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch.
It is quite a fall for the 32-year old Wieters – a Scott Boras client who apparently could not find a major league deal anywhere after leaving the Washington Nationals as a free agent – but a strong addition for the Cardinals.
The switch-hitter was a mainstay behind the plate for the Baltimore Orioles from 2009-2016, but suffered through increasing injuries in his later years. Wieters was an American League All-Star in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016 and was named the league’s catching Gold Glove Award winner in 2011 and 2012.
The last two years with Washington, his performance dropped off substantially. Last season, Wieters made just 271 plate appearances around battling a left hamstring injury that required surgery and later groin and back maladies, all troublesome for a catcher. He slashed just .238/.330/.374/.704 in 2018 after a career-worst .225/.288/.344/.632 in 2017.
Even so, that was considerably better than the Cardinals’ prior presumed back up for this coming year, Francisco Peña, who slashed an anemic .203/.239/.271/.510 behind Yadier Molina last season.
Unless Molina is slower than expected in his recovery from his December knee surgery, or one of the catchers is injured, one of the trio of Wieters, Peña or Joe Hudson is likely to go before the season begins. All three were signed to minor league contracts.
Whoever is not backing up Molina in St. Louis should be assigned to work with top prospect Andrew Knizner at Triple-A Memphis. Hudson seems the most likely domino to fall.
Wieters will become the 10th catcher in Cardinals big-league camp this spring, the 25th non-roster invitee and 65th player overall. All are vying for one of the 25-man active roster spots to open the regular season.
Because all three of the aforementioned competing catchers are non-roster invitees, only the winner will need to be added to the 40-man roster, with that decision likely not occurring until near the end of camp. An injured player could be moved to the 60-day disabled list, a trade could be executed or a player waived or released. With a month to go in camp, all are legitimate possibilities.
Mid-day on Wednesday, February 27, the Cardinals formally announced the signing. Wieters will wear no. 32, his same number from Washington, vacated by Jack Flaherty this spring in his move to no. 22.
The loser may bail out, but if it is Pena and I was him, I would consider carefully if I could find a better gig than Memphis by going elsewhere.
— Brian Walton (@B_Walton) February 28, 2019
Matt Wieters will make $1.5 million if he makes the #STLCards' 25-man roster. He can opt out on March 22 if not.
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) February 28, 2019
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