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The Tigers shouldn’t overlook Matt Wieters as an upgrade at catcher

The Tigers need a veteran catching presence, and Wieters should come cheap.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers are unlikely to make any flashy offseason moves this year. Even though they are not going to be the new home of big-time talents like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, this doesn’t mean they won’t add some new faces to the roster. They have already added lefthander Matt Moore, and have generally done their shopping early under general manager Al Avila.

In particular, there is a potential for the Tigers to shake things up at the catcher level, as we discussed earlier this month. James McCann is not a part of the Tigers’ future. He has been a fine enough player when working in tandem with guys like Alex Avila, but at the end of the day, he is not the catcher who will be behind the dish for the Tigers when they are contenders again.

Neither is Matt Wieters, but Wieters may offer something that the Tigers’ young pitchers need to gain a competitive edge: guidance.

Wieters is not a great offensive player, but has the potential to be better than McCann.

Wieters was using sparingly by the Washington Nationals last season, hitting only .238/.330/.374 (86 OPS+) in 271 plate appearances. He produced eight home runs and 30 RBI in that span. Meanwhile, McCann had 457 plate appearance, hit .220/.267/.314 (58 OPS+), and he hit only 8 home runs and collected 39 RBI. The 2018 numbers suggest that, given almost an extra 200 plate appearances, Wieters would probably make considerably more impact to the Tigers at the plate than McCann did. Steamer projections agree, projecting Wieters for an 89 wRC+ to McCann’s 80.

Then there’s the defense.

“McCannon” has often been lauded for his caught stealing numbers, which were tremendous in 2015 for his first full season, when he managed to throw out 45 percent of players who ran on him. However, those numbers have begun to decline, which is natural, and he posted a 30 percent caught stealing in 2016, and a 36 percent CS% in 2017.

Wieters has never gotten as high as 45 percent, but he has, with rather impressive consistency, maintained a careers average of 32 percent CS% over the last 10 seasons. He was actually better than McCann in 2017, at 37 percent.

Neither catcher is particularly gifted at pitch framing. Wieters ranked 98th among MLB catchers in framing runs last year at -3.7 runs, with both Grayson Greiner and John Hicks sporting better numbers (-0.6 and -0.9, respectively). McCann’s framing numbers are better than Wieters, at -2.3 framing runs, but overall he ranked 94th defensively among catchers. They are pretty evenly matched here.

The bottom line is that Wieters would not be a step down defensively from McCann. More importantly, he also has five more years of experience in the major leagues. That’s five more years experience of calling games and managing pitching staffs, among other things. For a team with a young core of up-and-coming catchers like Greiner and Jake Rogers — not to mention a young, malleable pitching staff — that extra experience can pay in the future. The Tigers wouldn’t sign a guy like Wieters on the hopes he will get them into the 2019 postseason. He offers a slight offensive improvement over McCann, and no discernible defensive difference, meaning he’s a safe bet in the every day catcher position.

Beyond that, Wieters can help work with that young pitching staff, and provide the kind of veteran guidance that the Tigers’ catchers of the future could benefit from. The Tigers would be wise to add an Obi-Wan Kenobi [Ed.: more like Qui-Gon Jinn imo] type to their roster next season, rather than expecting McCann to finally develop into the player they once hoped he would become.

Wieters may not be flashy, but he might also be precisely what the Tigers need to help build towards their future success.