The 2013 Year In Mariners Catching

It’s all just a lot of stupid small stuff, but when you add it all up … it’s all just a lot of stupid small stuff.

Kelly Shoppach was abruptly DFA’d this week, in favor of some guy named Henry Blanco.  This doesn’t mean much, except that what once might have been an equal, 50/50 time-share at catcher between Shoppach and Zunino has turned into Zunino:  Starting Catcher, with some guy in his 40s playing once or twice a week, maybe.

This means that when Jesus Sucre returns from the DL, he’s almost certainly going to be the starting catcher in Tacoma.  I don’t think you go to all the trouble of signing a veteran catcher to be a mentor, just to turn around and waive that guy in two weeks when Sucre gets healthy.  You sign a mentor to BE a mentor.  And, with Sucre’s limited upside, you’re obviously not bringing in Blanco to be Sucre’s mentor.

So, that’s that.  Mike Zunino is officially a Major League catcher.  He’s not a mere stopgap presence to be sent back down for more seasoning; he’s here to learn on the job and consequences be damned!

Now, if it were me running the team (which, really, could I be any worse at this point?), it wouldn’t have ended up this way.  Let’s look back on the 2013 Year In Mariners Catching:

  • Mariners trade John Jaso for Mike Morse

OK, I’m with you so far.  Sure, I liked Jaso, but there was a need for a starting outfielder and there was a need for a middle-of-the-order bat.

  • Mariners make Jesus Montero the starting catcher

Fine.  Let’s see what the kid can do.  Obviously, he’s not going to be a long-term answer, but for right now, what’s the harm?  If he turns out to be halfway decent behind the plate, all the better.  That way, in the future, when Zunino is the starter, Montero can back him up on days he’s not DHing.

  • Mariners sign Kelly Shoppach to be the backup catcher

Yeah, this makes sense.  The team needs a veteran presence to back up Montero.  He’s played for Wedge before, so you figure he’s a good clubhouse guy.  And, in a pinch, if Montero struggles, you can throw Shoppach in there for more starts and he shouldn’t be a total trainwreck.

  • Montero struggles, team names Shoppach the starting catcher

This didn’t quite stick as advertised; the catching situation turned into more of a 50/50 deal, as the organization could ill afford to have Montero riding pine.  It wouldn’t benefit his development to have him not doing anything, nor would it work to increase his trade value, should the organization opt to cut and run.

  • Montero continues to struggle, is sent down to Tacoma
  • Jesus Sucre is brought up to replace Montero
  • Sucre to back up Shoppach at the Major League level

Well, what are you gonna do?  Montero was the worst defensive catcher in the Major Leagues, AND he was terrible at the plate!  You couldn’t very well expect him to get any better while he’s mired in this endless funk.  Better to send him down, let him work on his shit, let him get his confidence back, and let him work in an arena without so much pressure.

Sucre was kind of a nothing guy, but you need to have a warm body backing up your starting catcher.  Sucre did, however, provide quality defense, which is something at least.  Over time (albeit, a very short time), Sucre earned more starts.

  • Sucre is injured after taking a back-swing to his left wrist

He wasn’t placed on the DL, as the organization thought he might get better in a very short time.  Wish in one hand and shit in the other, you know?

  • Jesus Montero tears meniscus, put on 60-day DL

This happened in Tacoma.  Montero, after being sent down, was in the process of being converted to a defensive first baseman.  He was to continue playing some backup catcher, but primarily they wanted him to work out at first base.  This wasn’t entirely unexpected; even when we traded for the guy, most people projected him to either be a full time DH or first baseman.  I don’t really know how he was injured, but it certainly threw the organization into a tailspin.

  • Brandon Bantz called up to back up Shoppach while Sucre recovers

Had Montero not torn his meniscus, I have little doubt the Mariners would’ve immediately backtracked on their vow to have him work out his shit in the minors.  Just like Smoak last year, when injury strikes, long-term plans go out the window.  But, with Montero out, the Mariners had no choice but to bring up a guy who really wasn’t good enough to even play in AAA, let alone the Majors.  The team never wanted to start Bantz, because you don’t want to embarrass a kid who isn’t ready for the Majors (and probably will never be ready for the Majors).  But, they had no choice.  Bantz made one start, going 0 for 2.

  • Jesus Sucre put on the DL

Bantz was meant to be a short-term stopgap.  One start at the most, just to provide relief for Shoppach who was catching too many days in a row, including every pitch of a 16-inning barn-burner.  Ideally, Bantz would’ve been out of here within a week as Sucre healed.  But, Sucre couldn’t heal fast enough, and the Mariners didn’t want to risk giving a guy like Bantz multiple starts.

  • Mariners call up Zunino, DFA Bantz

OK, so I was with you up until this point.  Every move up until now was at least reasonable.  They made sense.  The Mariners were doing the best with what they were dealt.  But, calling up Zunino this fast was hardly a wise and well-reasoned move.

For the record, Bantz cleared waivers and is back in the minors, so no harm done there.

The Mariners could have just as easily signed a guy like Henry Blanco then, instead of calling up Zunino.  Run out an all-veteran backstop position until Sucre returned from the DL.  There were available catchers with Major League experience on the waiver wire, it wouldn’t have taken but a phone call.  Instead, the Mariners thought it would be a good idea to give their #1 prospect his first taste of the Major League life.

Which is exactly what they suggested it would be:  a taste.  They intimated that Zunino could come up for a couple of weeks, be observed by the Major League coaches to see where he’s at in his development, then be sent back down for more seasoning without hurting his psyche.  This was the argument used to rationalize Zunino’s premature presence.  The only thing was, they had to add him to the 40-man roster, which cost us a minor league prospect in Catricala (going to the A’s of all teams, so watch for him to be killing the Mariners in the next year or two).  And, now that Zunino is on the 40-man roster, he can never be taken back off again, lest we wish to lose him to the highest priority waiver team.  AND, if we keep him at the big league level for long enough this season, that risks making him a Super 2 player, which will cost us more in arbitration years.

All of that for a guy who may only be up here for a couple weeks?  Seems like a hefty price to pay.

  • Mariners DFA Shoppach, sign Blanco

Which brings us to this week.  Zunino is up for the long haul, Sucre is destined for Tacoma, Blanco is the Raul Ibanez of the catching position, and Shoppach has his reputation besmirched with rumors of him being a difficult clubhouse guy.

All in all, a Blanco for Shoppach swap doesn’t mean diddly.  Both are terrible with the bat, both are old and not long for the organization beyond this season, both are backups who have no business playing every day.

But, now Zunino.  Yesterday, he hit his first home run.  He’s 2 for 7 in his first two games, with a walk and two strikeouts.  And he’s our everyday catcher.  My oh my, Mariners; as Jackson said to Dux, “Aw jeez Frankie, I hope you know what you’re doing.”

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