WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After waiting and waiting to find a free-agent deal, four-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters finally found a match with the Washington Nationals.
Wieters and the Nationals agreed in principle on a $10.5 million contract for 2017, pending a physical, according to a person familiar with the deal. The contract includes a player option for 2018 worth another $10.5 million, the person said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Tuesday because nothing had been announced yet.
“We just thought that, ‘Hey, if we’re going to make this move, it’s better now, than later in the spring, when he has to go into the season without knowing the pitchers.’ And knowing our system and knowing us, there’s a lot to learn,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said after his team’s workout Tuesday, “because he’s coming from the other league.”
Wieters has played his entire career in the AL with the Baltimore Orioles after being taken with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft.
The defending NL East champion Nationals had opened spring training — the first official full-squad workout was Sunday — with Derek Norris, who batted .186 for the San Diego Padres last season, projected as their starting catcher. Wilson Ramos, an All-Star in 2016, left Washington as a free agent and joined the Tampa Bay Rays.
“We signed a guy who obviously struggled to sign with a team,” Norris said of Wieters, “and (the Nationals) saw an opportunity where, maybe, they got a cheaper price tag than they initially sought out. He’s an established guy.”
Now the question becomes how this affects Norris, and Baker indicated that it is likely he will be traded.
But Baker also noted that “there’s a chance” Norris sticks around, because “you don’t want to just give him away.”
As for Norris’ take on the situation, he said: “Still trying to earn a job. I’m still going to fight for a starting job. I don’t care if it’s Pudge Rodriguez in the prime of his career or Yadier (Molina) or Matt Wieters. As of now, I’m still competing for a starting job. I’m trying to help a team win, and whatever transpires, transpires.”
Baker described Norris as “extremely disappointed, but he realizes that it’s a business and we were trying to get better in the position and Matt Wieters is a guy that’s done well.”
Wieters, 30, is a switch-hitter known for his ability to work with a pitching staff. He has a .256 career batting average with 117 homers and 437 RBIs over eight seasons.
Last year, Wieters hit .244 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs in 124 games, after becoming a free agent and accepting the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer. He became a free agent again and was not given a $17.2 million qualifying offer.