While it’s been a quiet start to the offseason for the Orioles, this week has brought moves elsewhere that wouldn’t figure to do them any favors.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ decision to sign 31-year-old catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract will undoubtedly influence the asking price of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters when he hits free agency next offseason. Martin is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in which he hit .290 with 11 home runs and 67 runs batted in to go with a career-best .402 on-base percentage, but it’s a steep investment to make for a catcher who will be 32 at the start of spring training and hit below .240 in each of his previous three seasons.
Martin’s career on-base plus slugging percentage is .754 compared to Wieters’ .743.
This signing on the heels of the New York Yankees inking veteran catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract last winter must have agent Scott Boras licking his chops while waiting for Wieters to complete his rehab from last season’s Tommy John surgery.
Assuming he makes a full recovery and displays a throwing arm comparable to what he had prior to 2014, Wieters figures to get a deal that will trump what Martin or McCann received in free agency. The 2007 first-round pick doesn’t turn 29 until May and will have a full season to prove to all suitors he’s 100 percent after the procedure that cost him all but 26 games last season.
Of course, the Orioles have known all along that it would be difficult to sign their All-Star catcher to an extension as players typically don’t employ Boras with thoughts of a hometown discount when it comes to free agency. He isn’t getting nine years or the $164 million San Francisco gave Buster Posey a couple years ago, but it appears quite feasible that Wieters will approach or even reach nine figures with a strong and healthy 2015 campaign.
The Blue Jays giving $82 million to a catcher on the wrong side of age 30 only reaffirms that Wieters is going to get paid lucratively.
Another smaller signing Tuesday confirms the growing emphasis on relief pitching with the Chicago White Sox agreeing to a three-year, $15 million contract with left-hander Zach Duke. Free-agent lefty Andrew Miller and his representation must be salivating to see the 31-year-old Duke cash in on a good 2014 season amidst mediocre career numbers.
In 74 appearances with Milwaukee, Duke pitched to a 2.45 ERA and averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, but he sports a 4.46 career ERA — much of that coming as a starter earlier in his career — and has averaged just 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 10 seasons pitching only in the National League. Lefties batted .198 against Duke while right-handed hitters posted a .242 mark in 2014.
The veteran southpaw had a good season, but if a club was willing to hand out a three-year, $15 million contract to a lefty reliever after only one good season, how much is Miller — who’s posted three impressive seasons in a row — ultimately going to fetch as arguably the most sought after bullpen arm on the market?
Another move to keep in the back of your mind was the Atlanta Braves’ decision to trade outfielder Jason Heyward to St. Louis in exchange for starting pitcher Shelby Miller, the first blockbuster trade of the winter. As right fielder Nick Markakis remains unsigned and available, it’s interesting to note that the 31-year-old spent much of his life growing up in Georgia and the Braves now appear to have an opening in the outfield depending on what they do with some other position players.
To be clear, there haven’t been any tangible indications that Atlanta would pursue the 2014 Gold Glove winner as it’s still expected that the Orioles and Markakis will get a deal done.
The news of Miami inking young slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract doesn’t appear to have any direct impact on the Orioles, but it does compel some to again bring up the possibility of signing 22-year-old third baseman Manny Machado to a long-term contract.
Machado is certainly the kind of talent that you’d like to keep as long as possible, but the Orioles need to make sure he is fully healthy in 2015 after having both knees surgically repaired in less than a year’s time. Until he makes it through a full season — which his rehab schedule indicates he’ll have a good chance to do — the organization should be holding off on any talk of a lucrative deal.
The 2010 first-round pick isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2018 season.