Washington Nationals Agree to Sign Matt Wieters

The Washington Nationals have reportedly come to terms with catcher Matt Wieters on a one-year deal with a 2018 player option.

It took until Spring Training, but Matt Wieters finally has a new home. And he doesn’t have to move very far.

According to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, the former Baltimore Orioles catcher has agreed to a one-year deal with a 2018 player option with the Washington Nationals, pending a physical. The deal will pay him $10 million in 2017, and $11 million the following year if he exercises the option. $5 million will be deferred through 2021.

Wieters’s arduous wait on the free agent market has been much-discussed, but patience appears to have led him to a nice situation. The Nationals are an aspiring title contender, and he gets to work with a pitching staff that includes some of the most talented arms in the game. He also gets the security of a multi-year deal while retaining the option to test free agency again after one season if he boosts his value enough with a great campaign.

The 30-year-old Wieters (31 in May) struggled as a free agent this winter due to his underwhelming performance in 2016. The veteran slashed .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs and 66 RBI. Though he flashed some of his earlier pop with the bat (67 HR from 2011-13), Wieters’s 87 OPS+ was the lowest of his eight-year major league career.

However, the Nationals will hope that Wieters improves the further away he gets from 2014’s Tommy John surgery. Last year was his first predominantly healthy season in a while; he played in 124 games after appearing in only 101 combined over the previous two campaigns.

Wieters seemed to slow down as the 2016 season progressed: His .258/.310/.418 slash line in the first half earned him his fourth All-Star nod, but those numbers sagged to .227/.294/.399 after the midseason break. If that decline was attributable to Wieters still getting his feet back under him, then perhaps he’ll hold up better and be more consistent in 2017.

Not long ago, Wieters was one of the rising young backstops in the game. His 14.2 fWAR from 2009 to 2013 ranked seventh among all big league catchers, primarily trailing brand names such as Joe Mauer (23.6), Yadier Molina (21.4) and Buster Posey (18.0). Injuries quickly derailed him, though, and now he aims to regain some of the status he’s lost.

It will be a tough climb, but Washington should give him ample opportunity. The Nationals lost a big contributor in Wilson Ramos earlier in the offseason, an expected development after his late-season ACL tear. They acquired Derek Norris from the Padres in December to go along with Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino at the catcher position. Wieters should take over as the lead man, and FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman wonders if the Nats might now shop Norris in trades.

Overall, this seems like a solid, relatively low-risk addition for the Nationals. Wieters has his weaknesses and question marks, but he could also surprise with a bounce-back season, making the signing look like a shrewd move. At the very least, he’ll bring another veteran presence to the lineup on a team that expects to make a deep postseason run this year.

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