Matt Wieters was the best backup the St. Louis Cardinals have had in years. Now a free agent, should the team explore resigning the former All-Star?
Let’s all be honest, Matt Wieters was a luxury for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019. As a free agent last offseason, just two years removed from an All-Star season and just 32 years old, Wieters said that the contract offer from the Cardinals was the only one that he received.
This odd fact is depressing for Wieters, but for us fans, it meant that we finally had an established backup to play behind Yadier Molina. No established players have ever wanted this role because of how much Molina plays. Getting paid is nice, but playing time means more at times. This was a smart move by the Cardinals though as Molina played in his third-fewest games since 2004 in 2019.
This was mostly due to injuries. When Molina was on the active 25-man roster, he was in the lineup as much as ever. Wieters did play in 67 games though and while his overall numbers aren’t particularly inspiring, he seemed to hit better than his ~.700 OPS would suggest.
Wieters hit 11 homers and they all seemed to be at times where they were super important. The most important thing with a backup catcher is to be able to fill in without a noticeable difference in performance and the Cardinals definitely had that in Wieters.
Wieters is a free agent though and the question is out there about whether or not the Cardinals should resign the veteran.
Those two names might be out of order, but hear me out.
Joe Hudson is a career minor leaguer/backup who played at AAA Memphis in 2019 except for one at-bat at the major league level. Hudson is bland and boring but had almost identical stats as Wieters did while hitting at AAA in 2019 and is dirt cheap. He is a great safety option to have in the Minors.
Andrew Knizner, by most people’s estimation, is the catcher who is next in line for Yadi’s spot. Yadi may play forever at this point but the 24-year-old Knziner has proven in the minor leagues that he can handle a pitching staff and hit for gap power.
Knizner is the Cardinals’ number 3-5 prospect depending on where you look, and he deserves more playing time. Unless the team plans on trading him as they did with Carson Kelly (because Yadi gets priority), Knizner is going to have to play more.
Even if Yadi sticks around until 2022, the Cardinals will be sunk if he is still starting at that time. I hate to say it, but it’s true. Yadi’s production has been drastically falling and 2019 showed that. He still is a great game manager, he still has his clutch-factor, but Yadi will probably never be an All-Star or Gold Glove winner again.
If Knizner is the heir to Yadi, a transition needs to start happening in 2020. Knizner will turn 25 during the season and without anything left to prove at AAA, he needs to get playing time in the MLB. It’s that simple.
The best way for him to do that is to be Molina’s backup for 2020 and then move into the starting role in 2021. If Molina won’t let that happen or if the team isn’t okay with doing that, trade him. Knizner is at his peak prospect value and keeping him in the Minors or sitting him all the time at the MLB will only kill his value and stunt his growth.
Let Wieters walk, keep Joe Hudson in AAA as a safety measure, and play Knziner at least three times a week. That is the best way forward.
If not, trade Knizner, and go ahead and resign Wieters. His price won’t be an issue, but he proved enough that he can be a viable starter that at least a couple of other teams should be interested in him for 2020.
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There’s a couple of right answers in the backup catcher situation and lots of wrong answers. Having Wieters was great for 2019, but moving forward, I believe that spot should go to Knizner and should be expanded so he gets a bigger share of the starts.