JUPITER, Fla. • President's Day had come and gone, pitchers and catchers had long since reported, and the first games of spring training were close to appearing on MLB Network, and still Matt Wieters was going back to college, not off to work.
On Feb. 25, the two-time Gold Glove Award-winner and former All-Star catcher who had yet to reach his 33rd birthday received his first contract offer of the offseason.
It was his only contract offer, he said.
"I would have liked to have a few more choices," he said Thursday morning. "Made it easy on me."
Wieters jumped on that minor-league offer from the Cardinals and the scant playing time it promised. The veteran catcher will make $1.5 million if he makes the team, according to a source. As a big-league free agent, Wieters also has the right to an opt-out clause in his contract that allows for him to become a free agent close to the end of spring training if he learns he will not make the team. Francisco Pena has the same right.
Wieters arrived in camp Thursday morning to find a locker newly opened for him along the prospect wall and the No. 32 jersey waiting.
It's now a duel between those two to sit behind Yadier Molina.
"At this point in my career being part of a contender is important to me," Wieters said. "Not often that you have 10 years in that you can kind of learn from a guy who has almost 20 years in. So, I’ll soak in as much as I can from Yadi and definitely lean on him to teach me what he knows about his staff as much as possible."
Wieters will begin by catching bullpen sessions in the next week, and he could get cleared for game action as early as next week, while the Cardinals are on a three-day road trip to the other side of Florida.
Wieters has been working out at Georgia Tech, his alma mater. He was trying to simulate spring training as much as possible with fielding drills, catching drills, and batting practice to go with weight training. Asked if he felt around Feb. 23 like baseball's icy free agency was going to freeze him out of the game, Wieters said no.
"You've got to hope," he explained.
The Cardinals want to pit Wieters against Pena for the backup job in the majors. Pena won the job a year ago in spring training, leapfrogging ahead of prospect Carson Kelly for the job he was supposed to inherit. The Cardinals have had difficulty finding backups for Molina, who has caught more than 75 percent of the Cardinals innings since he took over as the regular starter for the 2005 season.
As a switch-hitter, Wieters offers a lefthanded-hitting complement to Molina and that could give him an edge along with his decorated resumé. If the Cardinals are looking for a way to script starts for Molina's backup -- and thus, rest for the veteran backstop -- Wieters gives them that option vs. righthanded pitchers.
Wieters said there was some apparent interest in signing him from the Oakland Athletics. But that never manifested an offer.
So he waited.
Like a handful of veterans who have signed minor-league deals in recent weeks, Wieters described a market that was largely going on without him just two years after he signed a deal worth more than $20 million with Washington. A few players have brought up the curious experience of receiving multiple minor-league offers all on the same day. Wieters did not. He got the one, wasn't sure there would be others, and became a Cardinal.
"I still feel like I bring a lot to a baseball team," Wieters said. "You’ve just got to hope that eventually that comes around. I was fortunate enough that it was a good organization like the Cardinals to say, 'Let’s get him into camp.'"