The 2017 season was a forgettable one for Matt Wieters.
Fresh off signing a two-year, $21 million deal with the Washington Nationals, the four-time All-Star struggled to a .225/.288/.344 slash line with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs in 123 games. Wieters was also one of four National League catchers with at least eight errors and posted his lowest caught-stealing percentage in three years.
Whether he was at the plate or behind it, Wieters proved to a liability for Washington. His costly fielding mistakes in Game 5 of the NLDS won’t be quick to escape the memories of Nationals fans. To put the icing on the cake, both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference pegged Wieters at a negative WAR total for the regular season.
On Thursday, MLB.com reported the Nats are planning to reduce Wieters’ playing time down to 90-100 games next season. It appears the team is planning to lean on a committee to handle the catcher position, giving more playing time to the backup catcher than Jose Lobaton received in 2017.
Lobaton is now a free agent, and his .197 batting average over the last three years doesn’t provide much incentive for bringing him back. Instead, the Nationals will have to pick from their farm system or scour free agency for a suitable candidate.
In the minors, Pedro Severino is the most logical candidate. The Dominican native has shown flashes of offensive potential at the major-league level, but he’s much more highly regarded for his defense. Severino also had a down year at AAA-Syracuse, where he hit .242 with five home runs in 59 games.
The Nats are clearly high on Severino’s potential, having held onto him despite the White Sox targeting the young backstop in David Robertson trade talks last offseason. While he may have hit a rough patch in his development, Severino is still just 24 years old. The cheapest option would be to lean on him and see if he can take over the job once Wieters hits free agency next winter.
On the free-agent market, there are several veteran catchers that would fit the mold Washington is looking for. Alex Avila, A.J. Ellis, Chris Iannetta and Miguel Montero are all candidates that wouldn’t break the bank and could shoulder the load of a thrice-weekly starter.
Washington is handicapped by a tight payroll, however, and the team has other pressing needs in the bullpen and back-end of its rotation that need addressing. While other catching options will certainly be on the team’s radar, it seems unlikely that the team signs anybody outside the organization.
That being said, Wieters himself was a surprise signing in late February despite the presences of Derek Norris, Lobaton and Severino. It would be premature to rule the Nats out in the catcher market completely, but all signs point toward Severino making the Opening Day roster in 2018.