I mention this every trade deadline and at the start of every Hot Stove season, but if you don’t talk to or read me, and haven’t noticed yet, Ken Rosenthal has the best connections for valid and viable rumors within MLB organizations of any reporter in the business. He is to trades what Jon Heyman is to free agency.

So when Rosenthal steps out with a tweet like this one:

@Ken_Rosenthal: Sources: #Orioles willing to trade Wieters. Both Wieters and Chris Davis two years away from free agency and represented by Scott Boras.


it’s foolish to ignore it. Wieters should be considered a real trade candidate, in light of this revelation.

Wieters will be 28 in 2014. He’s been worth a solid 2-3 wins in each of the past three seasons. He’s a solid power hitter, and makes surprisingly consistent contact for a backstop with pop:

Catchers, 250 PA or more, 2013: Strikeout Rate and Power

1.Tyler FlowersCHAAL2013272750.342.160
2.J.p. ArencibiaTORAL2013274970.298.171
3.Jeff MathisMIANL2013302560.297.103
4.Jarrod SaltalamacchiaBOSAL2013284700.296.193
5.Alex AvilaDETAL2013263790.296.148
6.Jason CastroHOUAL2013264910.265.209
7.Chris IannettaANAAL2013303990.251.148
8.John BuckNYNNL2013324070.243.152
9.Nick HundleySDNNL2013294080.240.155
10.Hank CongerANAAL2013252550.239.155
11.Wilin RosarioCOLNL2013244660.234.194
12.Miguel MonteroARINL2013294750.232.114
13.Derek NorrisOAKAL2013243080.231.163
14.Welington CastilloCHNNL2013264280.227.124
15.Russell MartinPITNL2013305060.213.151
16.Jose LobatonTBAAL2013283110.209.144
17.Yan GomesCLEAL2013253220.208.188
18.Jose MolinaTBAAL2013383130.201.071
19.Matt WietersBALAL2013275790.180.182
20.Joe MauerMINAL2013305080.175.153
21.A.j. EllisLANNL2013324480.174.126
22.Devin MesoracoCINNL2013253520.173.124
23.Carlos SantanaCLEAL2013276420.171.187
24.Brian MccannATLNL2013294020.164.205
25.Chris StewartNYAAL2013313400.144.061
26.A.j. PierzynskiTEXAL2013365290.144.153
27.Wilson RamosWASNL2013253030.139.199
28.Dioner NavarroCHNNL2013292660.135.192
29.Salvador PerezKCAAL2013235260.120.141
30.Jonathan LucroyMILNL2013275800.119.175
31.Buster PoseySFNNL2013265950.118.156
32.Carlos RuizPHINL2013343410.114.100
33.Kurt SuzukiWASNL2013292810.114.087
34.Ryan HaniganCINNL2013322600.104.063
35.Yadier MolinaSLNNL2013305410.102.158

Source: BaseballProspectus.com

The sheer numbers only put Wieters just on the right side of average in terms of avoiding strikeouts at catcher, but look at a lot of the guys who had better contact rates than he did. Only four of the 16 guys with lower strikeout rates than Wieters also had higher isolated-power figures. The same number had an ISO of .100 or worse. (ISO, by the way, is simply slugging average minus batting average, or put another way, extra bases per at-bat.)

Wieters is no more than average in walk rate, but he doesn’t need to be. His 2013 line looks ugly: .235/.287/.417. That batting average, though, and thus the OBP, was driven down by a .247 batting average on balls in play.

Now, BABIP is a skill, but it’s awfully high-variance, but consider the three seasons prior to this one: Wieters’s BABIP in those, in over 1,600 plate appearances, was in the high .270s. The most logical conclusion from the data is that Wieters had a bad, unlucky season, but that he will bounce back in 2014. That means he has upside from his current standing, as one of the dozen best catchers in baseball.

If I were the Orioles, I would hesitate to trade Wieters right now. It’s interesting that they’re even toying with it. If a trade does come to fruition, it will also be an interesting case study in how well front offices understand variance these days.

It was once conventional wisdom, in fantasy baseball, to chase guys whose BABIP, or strikeout-to-walk ratio or whichever stat, indicated they’d been victims of bad luck recently. The idea was that those players were at the nadir of their values, and that you could buy low on them. Of course, the chief tentpole in that argument was the assumption that you could find some fool who would assume the surface-level stats to be real.

By that sort of logic, now would be a bad time to trade Wieters. If his value is defined by his surface-level stats, even a little bit, then it’s lower than it has been in a long time. On the other hand, though, if the Orioles are confident that teams will look past an ugly OBP and pay full price for what Wieters really is and could continue to be, maybe they should act to take advantage.

I’m of the opinion that trading Wieters now wouldn’t make sense. The Orioles have at least some chance to contend in 2014, and given their history in free agency (virtaully none), it’s very hard to imagine that they can deal him away and find a replacement who actually makes them better. The decision point isn’t really here yet: Baltimore can wait until next winter to make this move, or even the deadline if they fall out of contention.

If they do trade Wieters, I would think it will be in an effort to shore up their starting pitching. The Red Sox could offer them Clay Buchholz for him. The Cubs could choose Wieters as the guy who makes trading Jeff Samardzija worthwhile. Colorado is rumored to be weighing a move of Wilin Rosario to first base, and Baltimore did well in getting the most from Jason Hammel after bringing him out of Coors Field recently. I’m not sure, though, how to make the talent match up there. If the Rangers lose out on Brian McCann, they could be candidates for a trade.

In the end, I’ll be surprised if something actually comes of this, at least this winter. Still, it’s an intriguing rumor, and Wieters would (quietly) be a big get.

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