It isn’t often that a free-agent signing after the start of spring training has major ramifications. But that will be the case if Matt Wieters’ reported two-year deal with the Nationals becomes reality. A division that appeared to be a two-team race – the Nats and the Mets, with the Marlins on the periphery – would have a clear front-runner.
By no means will the Mets concede the NL East, but a wild-card berth suddenly would look much more likely than a division title for New York. Five reasons that one key addition would change the division race:
USA TODAY SportsEvan Habeeb
Matt Wieters is an impact star
Wieters was among the premier free agents on the market and fell into the Nationals’ lap in late February. A switch-hitting catcher with 20-homer power who still in his prime, was an All-Star in 2016, threw out 35 percent of would-be basestealers last season and has two Gold Gloves … wow. It's a huge upgrade over Derek Norris.
USA TODAY Sports
Bryce Harper is happy and healthy
Remember a few weeks ago when Harper turned to social media to make his case for the Nationals’ front office to sign Wieters? Wish reportedly granted. Harper still hasn’t revealed what led to his disappointing 2016 season (shoulder injury?), but he has all the motivation in the world to return to MVP form in 2017.
USA TODAY SportsGeoff Burke
The lineup has no holes
Harper, Wieters, Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Adam Eaton … where’s the soft spot? The only real concern is Ryan Zimmerman, and the team added Adam Lind for depth. With Wieters behind the plate, Eaton in center and Turner at shortstop, Washington also would be significantly improved defensively.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Mills
The rotation would have a proven everyday battery-mate
As noted, Wieters is no slouch behind the plate, even after Tommy John surgery in 2014. The staff will need to familiarize itself with Wieters but will have six weeks to do so – the same situation it faced with Norris, who played with the Padres last season. Washington’s rotation has question marks that begin with Stephen Strasburg – the Mets have just as many, if not more – but is deeper than you think.
USA TODAY SportsDale Zanine
The Nationals have catching depth for a trade
With Wieters aboard, Norris, Jose Lobaton and even prospect Pedro Severino would be expendable. That could pave the way for a deal involving a closer (David Robertson?) should Washington seek to address its one final glaring need before Opening Day.