On November 11th, MLB Trade Rumors announced the Mariners were close to a deal for free agent catcher Chris Iannetta. Then darkness. No more announcements. No posts announcing M’s and Ianetta nearly almost sign deal. Just silence.
It was clear the M’s were going to do something at catcher. They desperately needed to. Mike Zunino’s struggles are well documented, missing the last month of the season to work on his offensive woes in Arizona, not even the Arizona Fall League to practice in. The host of backstops were no help. Though a good defender, Jesus Sucre is not a good enough hitter to buy the time needed to work with Zunino. John Hicks and Steve Barron lack experience and skill.
The news today that Chris Iannetta signed a one year deal with the Mariners is a relief. Coming off a sub-par offensive year, there is no reason to believe Ianetta cannot rebound from his .188/.293/.335, 80 wRC+2015 season. (Which is significantly better than any other Mariner catcher in 2015.) However, his career average is much higher with a .231/.351/405 slash, numbers he exceeded in 2014. Iannetta is also a solid defender, with excellent framing skills, even better than Zunino’s according to StatCorner.
So what does this mean for Zunino? In the short term, it clearly means he’s lost his starting job. It was clear from comments DiPoto made to Ryan Divish that the starting job belongs to Iannetta. Signed to a one-year deal with a club option for 2017 for a scant $4.5 million, this is a low risk signing.
More importantly, it buys the Mariners some time to make a real run at developing Mike Zunino. Rushed to the majors in 2013, well before he was ready, Zunino has shown himself capable of handling a pitching staff, is a capable pitch framer, reduced the rate of passed balls, everything he needs to do but hit at the big league level. If this move allows time to find out if their young former first round draft pick can learn to hit at the big league level. It’s clear from DiPoto’s comments to Divish, Zunino still factors into the Mariners plans for 2016.
“Whether it be a time-share or a backup catcher, Mike is going to be in position to win some of that playing time.”
To make room for Iannetta on the 40-man roster, catcher John Hicks was designated for assignment.
No the Mariners didn’t sign Matt Wieters, or trade for Jonathan Lucroy, but this is a sensible move that provides a competent, veteran player at a very important position. It also let’s them get their own house in order, providing time to develop and assess a very valuable component in their organization. A Plan A and a Plan B. Nice.