The sun rose Monday and catcher Matt Wieters opted in to his $10.5 million player option to return to the Washington Nationals in 2018. The events were equally predictable.
Washington announced Wieters’ decision Monday morning. After what was the worst all-around season of his career, Wieters was left with no logical choice but to exercise the option he and his agent, Scott Boras, finagled when Wieters signed in spring training last season.
That Boras was able to get Wieters a two-year deal with a player option in the second season, despite Wieters languishing throughout the offseason and having gone through years of decline, was a coup for the player. That also put the Nationals in a bad spot this offseason after Wieters severely under-performed last year, when he had a .288 on-base percentage and produced -0.6 WAR.
But, he will be back, putting the Nationals in a weird position at catcher. Backup catcher Jose Lobaton is a free agent. His return seems unlikely. Washington has two young catchers, Pedro Severino and Raudy Read, who were both in the major leagues after rosters expanded in September. The organization views Severino as the better defender. It likes Read’s power potential. Read, 24, hit 17 home runs at Double-A Harrisburg last season before being called up.
Severino had an off year for Triple-A Syracuse. He hit .242 with five home runs, taking a step back from the .271 he hit in Syracuse in 2016.
Three older, but experienced, options exist on the free agent market. Jonathan Lucroy, 31, is available after a so-so 2017 season. The two-time All-Star hit .265 while spending last season with Texas and Colorado. His .716 OPS was his lowest since 2011. Alex Avila and Wellington Castillo are two other options, at the moment. Castillo can opt-in to return to the Baltimore Orioles for $7 million or test the free agent market.
Considering the cost of Wieters, the Nationals are more likely to pursue a veteran backup. Rene Rivera, Chris Iannetta and Nick Hundley are among the free agents.
What Washington does know is that there will be little change to the lineup on opening day 2018, assuming everyone — particularly Daniel Murphy, who had offseason knee surgery — is healthy. Wieters’ return assures the infield will look the same. The only changes in the outfield will likely be Adam Eaton sliding to left field to replace Jayson Werth, allowing Michael A. Taylor to remain the starter in center field. From there, they will watch pitchers look into Wieters for signs, a predictable development thanks to the language in his contract.