Among one of the most important decisions the Mariners need to make this off-season is: who will be their full-time starting catcher. The options are plentiful. Aside from the handful of catchers the Mariners already have on the roster, there are other options out there. Who they eventually choose to elect as the starter is anyone’s guess at this point.
The Mariners will have a multitude of options to choose from at the catcher position over the fall and winter months.
In house, they have the likes of Mike Zunino, Jesus Sucre and Chris Iannetta, and that’s just at the top level. Of course, there is Steve Clevenger too, but all indications are that he will be released from the team for his racially insensitive tweets.
However, two of those possible choices haven’t been fully reliable. Zunino still is struggling at the plate when he’s not hitting home runs. He batted just .207 with twelve home runs and thirty-one RBI. He is a great-fielder with a strong arm, but will that be enough?
Iannetta had a sub-par year, including a short, yet horrendously unproductive second half. In twenty-four games Iannetta had a measly twelve hits and drove in three men. In all, he batted .182. His last home run for the Mariners came all the way back on June 23rd in a 5-4 loss versus the Detroit Tigers.
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Sucre had the most promising showing in 2016, even if he only had nine games to show off his ability. In those nine games he batted .480 with a homer, two doubles and five RBI. Most importantly, he has the special gift of effectively communicating with Felix Hernandez on the mound due to their Venezuelan connection.
But, despite all this, he may not be the full-time answer. His arm doesn’t match that of Zunino and he needs to get more comfortable behind the plate on a more regular basis.
On the minor league level, the Mariners could send up Rob Brantley, Marcus Littlewood or Steven Baron, but none of them appear to be ready for the big show just yet.
Brantley was OK, but nothing to write home about at AAA-Tacoma. Baron and Littlewood excelled at AA-Jackson, but haven’t had the “it” factor they need to earn a call up to the big leagues. Maybe with a little time to begin 2017 in Tacoma and they can change a few minds.
Brantley is the only one of the three with a chunk of big league experience. He played with the Marlins and the Whitesox, but he hasn’t shown enough potential in the M’s system just yet.
So, with few promising options behind the plate in house, the Mariners may want to look around the league to see which free agents they could snatch up.
Around The League
For the right price, the Mariners could pick up studs like Wilson Ramos, Jonathon Lucroy or Nick Hundley.
Ramos had a remarkable year with the Washington Nationals before he tore his ACL in late September. He hit over .300 with twenty-two home runs and eighty RBI over one hundred thirty games. He also added twenty-five doubles this past year which was a new career-high for him.
The Nationals will likely re-sign him, but if they Mariners put out enough cash, maybe they could steal Ramos away.
Lucroy also had a extraordinary year, especially after he was traded to the Texas Rangers mid-season. His eleven home runs and thirty-one RBI since August helped them get to the playoffs, so we’ll see what happens there. It would be odd for the Rangers to want to get rid of him, but we can hope.
Nick Hundley cold end up being the best choice for the Mariners in 2017. He has nine years of experience and seems to be getting better with age. 2015 and 2016 are the only years that Hundley has had at least twenty doubles, ten home runs and forty RBI while having an OBP of over .320%.
It is only a matter of time before the Mariners make up their mind as to who should carry the torch behind the plate in 2017. Whether they choose to stay in house or they revamp last year’s near-playoff roster, the Mariners are not short of options.
They must make sure they make the right decision because Mariners fans are expecting a playoff appearance next season. Not having a good catcher will definitely help to add to their MLB-worst fifteen year playoff drought.