WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Matt Wieters, a switch-hitting catcher who was the best remaining free agent on this year’s market, officially signed with the Washington Nationals after everyone in the industry predicted it.
The deal took longer than expected, likely due to an injury that Wieters suffered at home in early November. Wieters required stitches for a laceration on his forearm, postponing his workouts for eight weeks, according to a major-league source.
On Tuesday, Wieters, who will play this season at 31, agreed with the Nationals on a two-year, $21 million contract with an opt-out after the first year, a source said. He will receive $11 million this season and $10 million if he returns in 2018, with $5 million deferred through ’21.
Despite signing Wieters, the Nationals already have two catchers, Derek Norris and Jose Lobaton, and a third with promise, Pedro Severino. Their biggest need is still to find a closer.
With the Nationals’ surplus of catchers, it’s assumed it will lead to a trade for White Sox closer David Robertson. But ownership blocked a proposed deal for Robertson earlier this month, sources said, and not everyone in the front office was convinced that he is the answer.
The White Sox almost certainly would want Severino, 23, over Norris, 28, or Lobaton, 32. And the Nationals are reluctant to trade additional young talent after parting with three top young pitchers to the White Sox for center fielder Adam Eaton.
Wieters projects to be at least the ninth Scott Boras client on the Nationals’ 25-man roster, joining right-hander Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg, right fielder Bryce Harper and left fielder Jayson Werth, third baseman Anthony Rendon, left-handers Gio Gonzalez and Oliver Perez and infielder Stephen Drew.
The Nationals pitching will benefit from the presence of Wieters, who throws well, blocks well and is proficient at handling a staff. His poor pitch-framing numbers gave many teams pause, but his overall defensive package is still a plus.
Offensively, Wieters has yet to recapture his form from 2011-12. He missed much of the ’14-’15 seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But from May 10 through the end of the season, he hit 16 homers with a .741 OPS, well above-average for a major-league catcher, though his .306 on-base percentage during that span was still below.