Catcher Matt Wieters has accepted the Baltimore Orioles' qualifying offer. That means that Wieters automatically gets a one-year, $15.8 million contract from the team. It also means the Orioles will have less cash to spend on retaining Chris Davis and Darren O'Day.
Last Friday, Wieters was one of three players who received a qualifying offer from the O’s, along with fellow free agents Davis and Wei-Yin Chen. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, any free agent who receives a qualifying offer from his most recent employer has one week to either accept or reject the deal, which carries a salary equal to the average salary of the 125 highest-paid MLB players.
Prior to this offseason, in the three years since the qualifying offer came into existence, every one of the 34 players who had received a qualifying offer had rejected it. Yesterday, Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus became the first player to accept one. Now, Wieters becomes the second. In doing so, he hurts Baltimore’s chances of resigning Davis and O’Day.
The primary reason teams make a qualifying offer is so if a free agent rejects it and signs with another team, his old club receives a compensatory first-round draft pick from the new team. Typically, free agents who receive qualifying offers are the ones who are all but guaranteed to sign elsewhere. Wieters, however, was an atypical case.
In June 2014, Wieters had Tommy John surgery. When he finally returned to the field in June of 2015, the three-time All-Star was a shell of himself, both offensively and defensively. At the plate, thanks to a two-week hot streak at the end of the season, Wieters finished with a .741 OPS that was just off his career mark (.743). Behind the dish, he caught in back-to-back games just five times and threw out 31 percent of would-be base stealers. Not counting his injury-shortened 2014, it was his lowest caught stealing rate since 2010.
That the Orioles gave Wieters a qualifying offer suggests that they thought he would walk, and it was a reasonable assumption. Despite the down year, Wieters was still the cream of this year’s free agent catcher crop. Not to mention, he’s repped by superagent Scott Boras, who is not a fan of qualifying offers.
That said, following a subpar performance in 2015, the Birds had to know that there was a decent chance of Wieters accepting. By doing so, he would give himself another season to rebuild his value so that he (and Boras) could really cash in on the open market a year from now.
To be sure, it was a bit of a gamble. And now the Orioles will have to pay the price.
Not that Wieters doesn’t give the Birds value. But at a salary that’s nearly double what he made last season ($8.3 million), and given that Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger are still around after filling in admirably (combined 2.6 WAR for just over $1 million in salary), the cost of keeping Wieters seems to far outweigh the benefit. Especially when you consider the ripple effect.
By committing nearly $16 million to Wieters, the smallish-market Orioles -- whose $119 million payroll ranked 13th in baseball last season -- went from being in poor position to resign Davis to being in awful position to resign Davis.
A free agent after leading the majors in home runs for the second time in three years, Davis is likely looking at a five or six year deal north of $100 million. Well north, possibly. For a Baltimore club whose richest contract ever was $85 million (Adam Jones), it was already hard to imagine them ponying up to keep Davis. Now that they just doubled Wieters' salary, it’s even harder to imagine.
Same goes for O'Day, the All-Star reliever who earned $4.25 million with the O’s last season and who could be looking at a three- or four-year contract with an annual value that is double what he was making in Charm City.
Wieters accepting the qualifying offer doesn’t mean the Orioles won’t sign Davis and/or O’Day. What it does mean is that the odds just became a whole lot slimmer.