After weeks of rehabilitation, the most recent evaluation for Baltimore Orioles backstop Matt Wieters has concluded that he does indeed need Tommy John surgery and will miss the remainder of the 2014 season.
The 28-year-old switch hitter had enjoyed his best start in his career this season, batting .308/.339/.500 with five home runs through 26 games. But on May 10, the slugger went down with a strained right elbow, with the injury occurring in the ulnar collateral ligament. After a throwing program didn’t yield the results the team was hoping for, a trip to see Dr. James Andrews on Monday confirmed Baltimore’s worst fears, as surgery is now imminent for Wieters.
It truly has been the year of Tommy John surgery, as dozens of pitchers and position players have gone under the knife to repair torn elbow ligaments. This, however, becomes the first high-profile position player to go under the knife in 2014, and means big things for both Wieters and the team that employs him.
In the near-term, the Orioles will use the recently acquired Nick Hundley as their primary catcher. With Baltimore right in the thick of things in the AL East, upgrading the catching position will be of the utmost importance, even with Hundley in the fold. Catchers that might be targeted by Baltimore include Minnesota’s Kurt Suzuki, Texas’ A.J. Pierzynski and Pittsburgh’s Russell Martin.
All three catchers are in the final year of their contracts. In the case of both Texas and Pittsburgh, the Orioles might have to wait a while before making a move for either player as those teams aren’t ready to sell quite yet with six weeks to go before the trade deadline on July 31.
As far as Wieters is concerned, the injury will be of major concern once he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season. Catchers don’t throw as hard and as often as pitchers do, but for a position where throwing is of utmost importance, questions about his arm after he comes back next year will have to be answered quickly. Otherwise, a move to 1B or DH would be in order. While Wieters does have 20-HR power, his contact skills and walk rate don’t transfer will to those bat-first positions.
One possibility to consider might be Baltimore looking to take a flier on Wieters while injured as a buy-low candidate. While highly unlikely due to both the timing and Wieters having Scott Boras as an agent, Wieters knows that everything would have to go right for him in 2015 to command the contract both he and Boras think he deserves.
Until that happens, all eyes will be on Dan Duquette and his front office staff to determine who they think can fill in for Wieters as they look to make a run at the playoffs once more.