Matt Wieters has played just 101 games the past two seasons, because of Tommy John surgery and the rehabilitation work that followed, and his performance in the games in which he played last summer was pretty average. A .319 on-base percentage, with eight homers.
But for free agents to be like Wieters, timing can be everything. If Buster Posey were a free agent this fall, or Salvador Perez, Wieters would have to wait for others to go off the board. Instead, Wieters is in a position similar to that of Russell Martin after last season: He's clearly the No. 1 free agent at his position, a factor which increases his leverage markedly. If a team wants to fix its catching, Wieters is the best available player among a group that includes Chris Iannetta, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, Alex Avila, Brayan Pena and others.
In other words, Wieters is the diamond amid lesser stones. He is 29 years old (and turns 30 next May) with two Gold Gloves on his résumé, a switch-hitter with power, and he will be another year removed from his surgery.
The Orioles intend to extend a qualifying offer of $15.8 million to Wieters, and they want to re-sign him. If he works out a deal elsewhere, he will cost that team a draft pick, a factor that could chase away some other clubs. But Atlanta finished in the bottom 10 in the MLB standings and therefore has a protected first-round pick -- signing Wieters would only cost them a second-round pick, around 50th overall, and the Braves need an alternative after Christian Bethancourt's ugly rookie performance.
Other free agents with significant leverage:
1. David Price (obviously): He is the best available starting pitcher, will probably get the most significant contract of the winter, and some rival evaluators consider the Cubs to be the heavy, heavy favorites to sign him.
2. Darren O'Day: The right-handed reliever hits the market in a fall when some evaluators view the cast of available relievers to be generally suspect. Over the past four seasons, O'Day has posted ERAs of 2.28, 2.18, 1.70 and 1.52, thriving while having his workload closely regulated by manager Buck Showalter. His year-to-year count of innings: 67, 62, 68 2/3, 65 1/3. O'Day just turned 33 and he will presumably have a lot of choices in free agency.