Why Jesus Montero Catching Isn’t Helpful

Dave · October 26, 2012 at 12:05 am · Filed Under Mariners 

With the Mariners declining Miguel Olivo‘s option, there’s been some conversation over the last few days about whether the M’s need to go get another Olivo type of catcher — meaning a right-handed backup, not a horrible player who the manager overvalues — or whether they can just go with John Jaso and Jesus Montero splitting the duties until Mike Zunino eventually shows up. I know a decent amount of you just want to go with Jaso and Montero so that Eric Wedge is forced to use them both, rather than playing some stop-gap veteran who tickles his fancy. However, I just don’t think it’s a particularly practical solution, and the explanation also points towards why I don’t think Montero serving as a part-time catcher is even helpful to the organization.

Let’s just start with the obvious – Jesus Montero is going to spend a decent amount of time at DH next year. Jack has already stated that they’re not really looking at him as a first baseman, and they see him as strictly a catcher/DH option for 2013. So, on days when Montero starts at DH, the Mariners have to have another catcher on the roster. It’s not just in case of injury — though that is part of it, as no manager wants to lose the DH for an entire game if Jaso ends up getting hit by a pitch in the first inning or something — but also just for basic strategy. Both Jaso and Montero are slow runners who should be pinch-run for late in games, and Jaso should probably be pinch-hit for against tough left-handers in high leverage situations, assuming the team has a decent right-handed bat on the bench anyway. On days when Jaso is catching and Montero is DHing, you can’t do either of those things for either one. Even pinch-running for Montero is too big of a risk, because no manager wants to get put in a position where something happens and the team has a utility infielder wearing the gear at the end of the game if it could have been avoided.

Having Montero DH means that the team does not have a choice but to carry another catcher. And if you’re already going to carry two catchers in addition to Montero, then there’s really not much value in having Montero catch at all.

The entire point of keeping a bad defensive player at an up-the-middle position is to try and squeeze extra offense into the line-up by freeing up a line-up spot that can be given to another hitter. When Montero catches, the DH spot is open for another bat, so the guy playing DH essentially hits instead of whoever that backup catcher would have been. The DH is almost certainly going to be a better hitter than a generic backup catcher, so that’s where the value in having Montero catch is supposed to come from.

But here’s the problem – a team carrying 12 pitchers doesn’t really have a spot on the bench for three catchers and a platoon DH, so that guy is not going to end up being the bat you think you’re getting in the first place.

Let’s just walk through it. Here’s how the 25 man roster is going to break down:

Starting Pitchers: 5
Relief Pitchers: 7
Starting Infielders: 4
Starting Outfielders: 3

That’s 19 of your 25 roster spots accounted for without counting catcher or DH. Jaso and Montero push us up to 21 players, and then the required third catcher puts us at 22. So, you have three spots left on the bench, and right now, you don’t have a single backup for any of the position players. Obviously, you need a reserve outfielder, so that’s 23. And then you need a backup infielder who can play shortstop, so even if you get a super utility guy to cover all three non-1B infield spots, you’re at 24 and are in a situation where your backup shortstop is also the guy who has to give Kyle Seager or Dustin Ackley a day off if need be.

That’s less than ideal, since most guys who can play shortstop can’t hit, which is why teams generally split that role in two, having a backup middle infielder and then a backup corner infielder. But if the Mariners did that, they’d be at 25, and their roster would be full. So, to fit this right-handed DH type on the roster, all of the sudden he’s also required to play first and third base, so that he can serve as the backup corner guy on days he’s not DHing against lefties.

But, now, you’ve just added a level of defensive requirement that drastically cuts down on the pool of candidates. While the hope is that having Montero catch lets you stick someone like Jonny Gomes in the line-up, he doesn’t qualify anymore, because now you’re looking for a right-handed stick who can play third if need be. You know how many players in the Majors last year played at least 10 games at both 3B and DH in 2012?

10. Three of them are regular third baseman who just battled injuries (Beltre, Longoria, A-Rod) and one is left-handed (Eric Chavez), so they’re obviously not options for this kind of role. The other six — Mark Reynolds (too expensive), Michael Young (WAY too expensive), Jeff Keppinger (free agent coming off good year, won’t have to settle for part-time gig), Pedro Ciriaco (can’t hit), Jose Lopez (dear God no), and Lonnie Chisenhall (prospect, not available). The reality is that there just anyone who can both play an adequate Major League third base and hit well enough to be a real option at DH is good enough to be a starting third baseman, so he’s already got a job and probably makes a lot of money. There just isn’t some warehouse of useful right-handed 3B/DH types who are looking for 250 plate appearances per year. Those guys basically don’t exist.

Because of the potential role being offered, you’re just going to be left fishing at the bottom of the free agent market or trading for some AAAA kid who you think deserves a shot in the big leagues. Sometimes, this works – the Rays got a steal with Keppinger, and Josh Donaldson turned into a pretty nice player for the A’s after originally being cast in something like this role. But, really, this is the kind of player you’re talking about opening up a roster spot for. Not Jonny Gomes; Josh Donaldson, with some chance of ending up with Jose Lopez instead.

Even if you think Jesus Montero is simply a bad defensive catcher instead of a disaster catcher, the reality is that an alignment with Montero behind the plate and a Donaldson type at DH isn’t anything special, and could be pretty easily matched by pairing a generic right-handed catcher with decent defense with Montero at DH. The gap in offense between what you can actually fit in as your right-handed DH and what you could get from a right-handed platoon catcher — those do exist, by the way — isn’t all that large.

With a four man bench, giving two of those spots to a third catcher and a platoon DH really hampers your roster construction options. And, if the team is serious about having Montero as a C/DH next year, then the third catcher isn’t optional. So, rather than force Montero behind the plate and create an inflexible bench that leaves the team short-handed whenever anyone (read: Brendan Ryan or Franklin Gutierrez) are dinged up and need a day off, the Mariners can just solve this whole mess by telling Montero his days as a catcher are over.

This makes it easy. Montero just turns himself into Billy Butler, focusing on just hitting and turning all those hours he would have spent on catching into time working on his swing or improving his hitting. The other catcher on the roster becomes Jaso’s platoon guy, and the two of them share catching duties. And then your backup corner guy doesn’t have to hit well enough to also serve as a DH against righties, so you have a little more flexibility in the type of player you can choose to fill that role.

The idea of Jesus Montero as a catcher is far more valuable than the reality of Jesus Montero as a catcher. When you look at the practical applications of having him do both, it should be pretty clear that the organization isn’t really gaining anything by having him stay behind the plate. And, if you just take Montero’s catcher’s glove away from him now, then you’re not converting him into a full-time DH mid-season if Zunino forces his way onto the roster.

I get that the team has invested a lot in Montero as a player, and that in a vacuum, a guy who can catch is more valuable than a guy who is strictly a DH. But, for this organization, where John Jaso is already here and Mike Zunino is coming, there’s just not really any real value to be had from Montero catching. Not if they also want him to DH, anyway.

Comments

64 Responses to “Why Jesus Montero Catching Isn’t Helpful”

  1. Slats on October 26th, 2012 1:32 am

    Hopefully Zunino is ready.

    Montero just needs to focus on hitting.

  2. maqman on October 26th, 2012 3:08 am

    Presumably Z had to consider Montero as a DH and nothing else when they acquired him. If so then they should plan on a backup catcher on the roster. I could see them waiting until spring training to see how Zunino pans out first and then signing or trading for a body that could produce better than Olivo if they have to at that point.
    Gomes would be a nice piece to have available for the OF as he mashes lefties without being hopeless against righties and it looks like the A’s wont resign him.

  3. wsm on October 26th, 2012 7:18 am

    Almost every team carries two catchers, so your pinch hitting, pinch running, and injury concerns are just routine issues all clubs deal with. The loss of the DH slot may be a minor issue, but your 3rd catcher bench slot would be filled with a DH type who can pinch hit.

    The Orioles (with Ramon Hernandez and Javy Lopez) and the Tigers (with Alex Avila and Victor Martinez) have used this tactic in recent years. I’m not sure how you measure it’s effectiveness, but they stuck with it for extended periods of time.

    I say start the year with it, and if it doesn’t work out, go get your AAA insurance catcher. He’s not going to be much worse than whoever you can find to take the backup catcher job this offseason.

    Being the backup catcher here isn’t going to be an appealing gig. There are better destinations that don’t come with a likely July DFA when Zunino is ready.

  4. jellison on October 26th, 2012 7:39 am

    Worthy discussion.

    However, I am skeptical of the assumptions underlying your argument: (i) roster flexibility is compromised if one particular player is capable of playing two positions (C/DH) rather than one (DH alone); and (ii) Montero is such a defensive liability at catcher that his value as a hitter is negated by his poor defense.

    I appreciate the roster construction conundrum, but I believe we are being presented with a false choice.

    If the Ms are comfortable with Montero catching, I believe it should be sufficient to have an MLB-ready (defensively speaking) catcher at AAA, and bring that person up the very next game should there be an injury to Jaso or Montero. The worst case scenario here is that for one game a few ABs are given to pitchers after Montero (or Jaso) is moved from DH to catcher to replace an injured catcher.

    So why sacrifice your roster construction to avoid this scenario? For all the reasons you stated above, one shouldn’t. The only reason for the Ms to carry a third catcher this year is if they don’t believe Montero should be catching at all.

    Based upon Montero’s performance last year, this would surprise me.

    When Zunino is ready. I believe he will be promoted to replace Jaso, not Montero.

  5. Jerry on October 26th, 2012 7:46 am

    Sucks Ryan Doumit isn’t available. That guy is perfect: good emergency catcher, switch hitter, kills RH pitching, and can play corner OF and 1b.

  6. Jerry on October 26th, 2012 7:50 am

    Jellison,

    If you have Zunino replace Jaso, you’ve just jettisoned one of the clubs best players.

  7. joealb1 on October 26th, 2012 7:50 am

    Excellent analyses as always. How about Ronny Paulino as a stopgap until Zuninno is ready. He should be cheap and can hit lefties a little. I’m not sure how he grades out behind the plate but he can’t be worse then Montero.

  8. Westside guy on October 26th, 2012 7:50 am

    Why would you “replace” the guy who, in 2012, was the team’s best hitter AND is a better defensive catcher than Montero? And that’s ignoring the handed-ness issue…

  9. Mariners35 on October 26th, 2012 9:00 am

    One way to cut the Gordian Knot is to a) acquire one or more solid innings-eater starters for the back of the rotation, to help b) not assume a 7-man pen.

    Pick whoever you think is the weakest non-specialist in the expected 2013 pen. Isn’t the value of keeping all the bench flexibility you describe, plus the contributions of a 3rd catcher, worth more than say 29.2 innings from Oliver Perez?

    And if bullpen usage is much like it was this past year, does it really cripple the effectiveness of the doompen to take 30-odd innings from one fellow and spread them around the other 6 guys? Or to put them on whoever is in the rotating-cast-of-characters that always cycle through any given pen?

    Yeah, I know there’s several dozen innings from guys last season who were terrible who aren’t here anymore… those get spread not only a little bit among the guys you expect to be the core of the pen, but likely mostly going to that one relief spot that seems to have a trapdoor under it for rotating fresh guys in over the course of the season anyway.

    Let’s even put names to this, though as with the offseason plans, don’t get too hung up on the names.

    Wilhelmsen – Closer
    Luetge – LOOGY
    Furbush – Lefty setup
    Capps – Righty setup
    Kelley – Righty, experienced guy, long relief, dude-with-trapdoor-under-him-to-rotate-in-others
    Pryor – Righty / dude-with-trapdoor-under-him-to-rotate-in-others

    Sure, problems that might jump out here include worries about Capps or Pryor taking on more innings, worries about Kelley, and the pen overall possibly needing another lefty in there. So fine, pick a good lefty in trade or within the system and swap him in for say Kelley.

    A 6-man pen should be able to survive even a series or so of Wedge weirdness and/or rotation in a slump, if you’re expecting that Felix and Jason need to be innings eaters and stoppers.

    And if there is definitive research on (in)effectiveness of 6-man ‘pens to counter this approach, a link would be good; I didn’t find anything on Fangraphs just now.

    Again, the effectiveness of carrying 3 catchers plus a well-rounded bench, should outweigh whatever risk is being taken or effectiveness you lose, from not having one more reliever.

  10. Dave on October 26th, 2012 9:04 am

    Almost every team carries two catchers, so your pinch hitting, pinch running, and injury concerns are just routine issues all clubs deal with.

    Nope. Teams deal with it for one guy, not two. If you’re starting Jaso and Montero, you literally have to choose between whether you want to PH for Jaso or PR for Montero, because you can’t do both.

    The Orioles (with Ramon Hernandez and Javy Lopez) and the Tigers (with Alex Avila and Victor Martinez) have used this tactic in recent years. I’m not sure how you measure it’s effectiveness, but they stuck with it for extended periods of time.

    The 2011 Tigers are the perfect example of why there isn’t much value to be had here. Martinez has played 26 games at catcher in 2011, almost all of them against left-handers. Here are the guys who got to play there in those games because Martinez wasn’t taking up the DH spot.

    Magglio Ordonez – 9
    No DH (interleague) – 6
    Brennan Boesch – 6
    Alex Avila – 4
    Miguel Cabrera – 1

    Of course, Boesch and Cabrera were already regulars, so in reality, the guy replacing Avila in the line-up was the guy who took their position in the field that day, which was Casper Wells, Don Kelly, or Wilson Betemit.

    In other words, the Tigers got nothing from theIr DH on days when Martinez caught. Ordonez was useless, and Leyland ended up using Martinez’s flexibility to get bench scrubs in the line-up for marginal defensive gains in the outfield.

    The Tigers really didn’t get any kind of advantage from having Martinez catch in 2011, just like the Mariners won’t get any from having Montero catch next year.

  11. _Hutch_ on October 26th, 2012 9:09 am

    Yeah you’d think this problem would take care of itself if you went with a 6-man bullpen. I’m also not convinced that Montero is incapable of being a not-terrible 1B, at least on a once a week basis.

  12. thedude1987 on October 26th, 2012 9:32 am

    Watching Montero run is horrifying. I couldn’t imagine what his foot work would look like at first base. He can probably scoop a ball pretty well, but probably has below average to terrible range.

  13. ivan on October 26th, 2012 9:39 am

    Montero played his first full season in the bigs at age 22. The assumption, and the conclusion, that he will never improve enough defensively to split the catching duties is, as nicely as I can put this, simply not demonstrated.

    He is a project, and a work in progress. But he has been catching all his life, and has repeatedly expressed his desire to keep doing so. He should be encouraged, and helped, toward that goal, as long as there is steady improvement.

    I have seen enough truly bad defensive first basemen to know that I don’t want to see Montero there, ever. A first baseman should have at least some range. Montero has little that I can discern. Every time he would hold a runner on first, he would be opening 10 feet more of hole on the right side. Opposing teams would hit-and-run, first-and-third the Mariners to death.

    Montero needs concrete, measurable standards for agility, glove speed, and throwing mechanics to improve on. How he achieves these in practice, and how that plays out in actual competition, should determine his future as a catcher, and not other roster considerations — although, like other commenters, I prefer a six-man bullpen to a seven-man bullpen.

    Montero is a young player, presumably with a bright future, who stands to make a comfortable fortune in professional baseball. I would give him every chance to apply himself to professional improvement on defense as on offense.

    We can expect to see his defensive ceiling, whatever it is, soon enough. It just doesn’t make sense to assume, or to conclude, that we have seen it at age 22.

  14. Carson on October 26th, 2012 9:52 am

    as long as there is steady improvement.

    So we agree he should be done as a catcher, then.

  15. ivan on October 26th, 2012 9:58 am

    You’re a bore, Carson, and prejudiced to boot. If you disagree with me, fine. Just speak to specifics and quit trying to be cute.

  16. wsm on October 26th, 2012 10:04 am

    ” because you can’t do both”

    Is Wedge getting fired before the season starts? Because the odds of him even considering doing this ar extremely long. He used all of 75 pinch hitters all year, with a good chunk of those coming in September.

  17. Dave on October 26th, 2012 10:06 am

    But there’s no value in having him split the catching duties. None. It’s a hope and a prayer with no upside.

    This entire idea of Montero catching 40 games per year providing value is a leftover notion from fantasy baseball, where position scarcity is a huge deal and pushes everyone towards wanting players to play up-the-middle. But, in reality, the value isn’t there.

    You’re pushing Montero to become a part-time catcher so that you can put a bench player in the line-up against left-handers. You’re not opening up a spot for a big time masher. You’re opening up a spot for a guy who isn’t good enough to start on a regular basis. It’s not helpful.

  18. ndevale on October 26th, 2012 10:16 am

    What is the value of Montero as a third catcher? That is to say, if they end up with Zunino/Jaso mid 2013 (or whenever), isnt the fact that he can actually strap on the tools and not embarass himself valuable?

  19. Dave on October 26th, 2012 10:18 am

    Zero. How often does Pablo Sandoval strap on the gear in San Francisco?

  20. Choo on October 26th, 2012 10:20 am

    David Ross will be a popular FA this winter, but he would be a nice fit. Perhaps too nice.

    If not Ross, then the best available bargain of Kelly Shoppach, Yorvit Torrealba, Ronny Paulino or Humberto Quintero may be all they need. All are average to above-average receivers, and it would be nice if the short-share catcher was at least the better receiver to safeguard against late-inning PB/WP/SB. I can see Wedge falling in love with Torrealba, though . . .

  21. 9inningknowitall on October 26th, 2012 10:21 am

    Its always a little scary to me when I not only understand where Dave is coming from, but I also agree with him. With Montero as the primary DH and maybe a 1st baseman during inter-league play allows for Jaso to get a majority of the starts behind the plate and a cheap RH hitting catcher to come in and take a few starts so Jaso can rest.

    In the absolute worst case scenario where both Jaso and the back up catcher get hurt then at least you have Montero who you could move to catcher, which is far less scary then the idea of Kawasaki at catcher last season.

  22. ivan on October 26th, 2012 10:23 am

    I’m sure Dave believes what he is telling us. I require a different burden of proof. This discussion can resolve itself in due time without any further input from me, and my future happiness does not depend on my being “right” or “wrong” about Jesus Montero’s catching ability.

  23. Dave on October 26th, 2012 10:27 am

    This isn’t even about Montero’s defensive abilities. It’s about the fact that when you have three catchers in the organization, there are dramatic diminishing returns to having them all catch part time. Even if you think Montero can eventually become a decent defensive catcher, that doesn’t do the team any good, because all he’s doing is displacing a player who can already do what you’re hoping he can do.

    The entire point of position scarcity is that it’s hard to find catchers who can hit. For some teams, that’s true. That’s not true of the Mariners, though – they have too many catchers who can hit, and the only way to get them all in the line-up is to have them not catch.

  24. ndevale on October 26th, 2012 10:34 am

    Ok I will bite. Sandoval played 86 innings at catcher in 2008 and 27 in 2009. I dont know that we can argue that Montero is a better or worse catcher than Sandoval, although I get the impression that he performed better in 2012 than many expected. That said, is there really zero value? Say Zunino starts, Jaso starts at DH, and they bring in a LOOGY in the 8th? Or Jaso starts, the Mariners have an outfield rotation that justifies starting someone other than Montero at DH occasionally, and you want to PH for Jaso. Or pinch run for him. Isnt the extra catcher valuable? Isnt that part of the appeal of Chris Gimenez?

  25. Choo on October 26th, 2012 10:41 am

    9inningknowitall:

    The nice thing about a cheap RH hitting catcher is that you can always find another cheap RH hitting catcher. They are essentially the call girls of baseball.

  26. ivan on October 26th, 2012 10:41 am

    Zunino isn’t here yet, and no one has even dreamed that he will break camp on the roster or in the starting lineup. He needs at-bats in AAA. Even Montero, whom Cashman described as “the best player I ever traded,” needed them.

    Until such time as Zunino gets promoted, if you have a guy who can split the catching duties, you use him there, and let him DH the rest of the time. If he was 32, I wouldn’t care. But he’s 22!

    I have been reading your commentary since you were a teenager, Dave, as you know. Year in and year out I consider you the best commentator on the Mariners that there is. But this one just doesn’t make any sense to me. Sorry, it just doesn’t. As I see it, you’re making a faith-based argument. Right now, if the season starts tomorrow, they have two catchers. Two.

    I know what the greatest manager of my lifetime would do in this situation. He would have as many players ready to play as many positions as he could. And he would make sure that they did. His name is Earl Weaver, and the title of his autiobiography is “It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts.” Words to live by.

  27. Celadus on October 26th, 2012 10:58 am

    “like other commenters, I prefer a six-man bullpen to a seven-man bullpen.”

    I reckon most people who read this blog prefer a six-man bullpen. However, most managers seem to panic when this reality confronts them.

    The contemporary six-man bullpen happens generally at the beginning of the season when there are more open days. Occasionally a club will decide to go with six relief pitchers for a short amount of time to address a specific problem, such as needing an extra infielder or outfielder due to nagging, non DL injuries to more than one regular.

    A five man bullpen would be even better. Then the manager could emulate Casey Stengel, have four or five regulars, and platoon the rest.

    Even if this strategy would work in the modern game, it isn’t going to happen until some team uses it successfully for two or three years.

    Unless one believes Wedge is a strategic innovator who would embrace this sort of experiment, the seven man bullpen for the Mariners is here to stay.

  28. Carson on October 26th, 2012 10:58 am

    If you disagree with me, fine. Just speak to specifics and quit trying to be cute.

    It’s entirely possible to make a point without writing paragraphs on the matter. The evidence is out there on Jesus’ defensive abilities. He’s not good. And he’s not improving enough to press forward.

    Also, the charge of prejudice was ridiculous. There’s no need for you to reach like that.

  29. Lantern on October 26th, 2012 11:16 am

    Isn’t the keystone of this discussion the fact that Montero is DH on days he isn’t catching? Can’t they solve that by having him play 1B instead of DH? Then he can move to catcher with no penalty? That seems like the simplest solution. Of course, I don’t think this is a problem that Wedge and Z are interested in fixing, because Wedge wants a defensive minded catcher and Z would like to give Smoak another go round. So in reality we are talking about something that the Mariners people aren’t even considering.

  30. Badbadger on October 26th, 2012 11:19 am

    I thought they ought to have scrapped the whole Montero as a catcher thing last year. It seems to me that the physical demands of catching make it harder for a player to develop as a hitter. Between Zunino and Jaso it seems unlikely that Montero has a future as the M’s catcher; he’s supposed to be all about hitting so why not maximize that value? Even with a 26 man roster I don’t see the point of forcing Montero into a position he’s not any good at. Let him DH, we need a DH.

  31. stevemotivateir on October 26th, 2012 11:46 am

    “Isn’t the keystone of this discussion the fact that Montero is DH on days he isn’t catching?”

    No. Didn’t you see the title of this post?! The point is that Montero shouldn’t be catching at all.

  32. thinkfull on October 26th, 2012 11:54 am

    So, Montero is to improve his hitting as a DH, without being on the field at all, over the course of the offseason, but it’s impossible for him to improve as a catcher over the offseason?

    Why can he do one, but not the other? Don’t forget, his bat was consistently at its worst when he was at DH.

    I see teams like the current Rangers and the early 2000s Yankees succeeding because they have too many good players to play every day, causing player rotation through positions and allowing managers to play match-ups and platoons. Would having a DH/ 1b/ C with a big bat be a bad thing?

    As long as we are depending on Montero to develop, why limit that development based on who else we have on the roster at the moment?

  33. _Hutch_ on October 26th, 2012 12:39 pm

    “You’re pushing Montero to become a part-time catcher so that you can put a bench player in the line-up against left-handers. You’re not opening up a spot for a big time masher. You’re opening up a spot for a guy who isn’t good enough to start on a regular basis. It’s not helpful.”

    You’re correct based on the current status of the roster, but that doesn’t have to be true based on what the 2013 M’s roster could be. I doubt the front office will be this ballsy, but what if they decide they’ve been derided enough and obtained two legit starting OFers this offseason – let’s say Melky Cabrera and one of the Upton brothers, just for rosterbation’s sake. They’d then go into the year with and Upton/Cabrera/Guti/Saunders OF. I’m as pleasantly surprised by Saunders’ break out this year, but on a playoff-caliber team he’s probably still a fourth OF/rest for Guti/DH caliber of player – the same kind of player that Casper Wells or Eric Thames could turn into if things break right.

    Your underlying point – that carrying three bat-first catchers is not the most efficient allocation of resources in the world – is correct, but in a legitimate lineup I fail to see how the additional positional flexibility that comes from Montero starting 30 games at catcher really hurts anything.

  34. _Hutch_ on October 26th, 2012 12:42 pm

    Also, I think I’d rather see Jaso taking reps at first than Montero. I recall that happening in the spring and it seems like he’s athletic enough to make it work.

  35. Carson on October 26th, 2012 12:42 pm

    Isn’t the keystone of this discussion the fact that Montero is DH on days he isn’t catching? Can’t they solve that by having him play 1B instead of DH? Then he can move to catcher with no penalty?

    Sure, and I see your point. However, to move him to 1B is going to require some time in the minors to work on a new position.

    What won’t help Montero turn into the offensive threat we want is to pile a new position on top of the challenges he’s having learning his primary position.

    It would be just too much. Use him at catcher in a pinch in the future? Sure. But I don’t think marginal flexibility of moving from 1B to C during games is productive to get his bat where we need it.

  36. jimabbottsrightarm on October 26th, 2012 12:50 pm

    If Stefen Romero keeps hitting, could he be an option for that DH/3rd role?

  37. ck on October 26th, 2012 12:55 pm

    Amen to Dave’s idea. With Zunino hopefully near, an Jaso already good enough, a cheap, expendable, good defense-first cather should be acquired until Zunino arrives full-time.
    I hope Edgar Martinez volunteers to teach Montero how to DH, including all the research about pitchers tendencies, etc.

  38. eponymous coward on October 26th, 2012 12:57 pm

    As long as we are depending on Montero to develop, why limit that development based on who else we have on the roster at the moment?

    Because there are a finite number of at bats you can give players, and right now, Jaso’s the best catcher on the Mariner roster. Are we going to bench the best catcher on the team right now so we can develop Montero into maybe being the best catcher on the roster? Exactly how many wins in 2013 do you want to burn not putting the best team out there, in order to develop Montero?

    Anyways, Dave’s points are all salient: given the penalty when you lose the DH and how specialized a job catching is, it’s really unreasonable to expect to your 25 man roster to have only two catchers: one who is the everyday C and takes his days off mostly against LHP (Jaso), one who catches against LHP and is the everyday DH (Montero)- you risk having games where you can’t PH for a player, or do a defensive substitution without losing the DH.

    If you have three catchers because you don’t want to lose the DH, you basically need someone like Chone Figgins on your roster, who has the advantage of being able to suck while playing multiple IF/OF positions.

    I suppose the other alternative is “trade John Jaso or Jesus Montero”- probably Jaso has the best trade value right now…

    Also, I think I’d rather see Jaso taking reps at first than Montero. I recall that happening in the spring and it seems like he’s athletic enough to make it work.

    I don’t see putting the less athletic player at the more critical defensive position and expect that to come out well.

  39. The_Waco_Kid on October 26th, 2012 1:07 pm

    Some commenters beat me to it: Having Montero as an emergency catcher is nice, but we’d still have to carry 3 catchers, so the benefit of him catching part-time is minimal.

    It depends how things play out. If Zunino, Jaso, and Smoak/Carp are hitting well at some point this season, Montero could find himself without a position, or maybe platooning with Jaso at DH. If 1B remains a black hole, we may need him or Jaso to move there. Or, much like eponymous said, maybe you trade Montero.

  40. jr on October 26th, 2012 1:27 pm

    Mike Napoli anyone? Right handed bat, can catch on Jaso off days, can DH or 1B on days Jaso catches, good for about 2 WAR. Not sure why more people aren’t throwing him in the mix for an off season plan. Too expensive?

  41. Lantern on October 26th, 2012 1:34 pm

    stevemotivateir- maybe you don’t understand what ” keystone” means. The position that Montero catching some doesn’t help you rests mostly on the fact that it limits roster flexibility, and doesn’t get a better bat in the line-up. Those facts are only true if he is playing DH when he is not catching. The position falls down without him as the regular or at least platooned DH. Dave lists the reasons individually.

  42. stevemotivateir on October 26th, 2012 2:18 pm

    @Lantern

    Uh, yes, I understand what “keystone” means. It’s not so much roster flexability that’s the real issue. At least that’s not how I took it. The main point is that he’s a terrible catcher, and by having him behind the plate, you’re preventing a better option from catching.

    But yes, what you’re suggesting with him at first would solve any issue of limitations with him at DH. But then you end up with the similar situation, in that you’re potentially sacrificing defense at first.

    If I’m missing something, or not understanding, someone feel free to correct me.

  43. Dave on October 26th, 2012 2:19 pm

    They’d then go into the year with and Upton/Cabrera/Guti/Saunders OF.

    This doesn’t help anything. The roster construction issue is entirely about DH vs LHPs – you’re not going to use any of those guys there. Having Upton and Cabrera doesn’t affect this at all.

    Mike Napoli anyone?

    Seriously, if you read this post and think “what the team needs is another C/1B/DH type”, I don’t even know what to say. They have too many C/1B/DH types. The answer is not to have more.

    Here’s the deal – if you want Montero in the C vs LHP/DH vs RHP role, you have to show how you’re going to make the roster work around that. Dumping a reliever and going with 11 pitchers is one way, but it’s probably not realistic in this day and age, especially with a mediocre rotation. Assume that no Major League manager is going to go with six relievers – show you can fill out a useful Major League bench with Montero in the C/DH role and still find room for some kind of productive DH vs RHPs that makes the whole thing worthwhile to begin with. Remember, you need a fourth OF and at least one reserve infielder who can play SS, and thanks to Guti and Ryan’s durability issues, you better be okay with them playing fairly regularly.

    Good luck.

  44. Thirteen on October 26th, 2012 2:23 pm

    Hutch:

    I dislike the suggestion that Saunders isn’t a starting OF on a playoff team. Saunders this year posted defensive numbers that were low outliers; he had always been positive or at least neutral on defense before. Scouts in the minors loved his defense, the eye test likes his defense, and his previous defensive numbers like his defense. Michael Saunders with even league average defense, which I think he has the capability to put up, is absolutely a playoff team’s starting center fielder.

    This year, Saunders put up a 108 wRC+ season while occasionally reverting to his old bad swing and entering slumps. He has offensive upside beyond what he showed this year, AND I don’t see much evidence that he is going to continue to be a -.8 win player on defense. Saunders should be able to put up average numbers on defense in center field, based on all pre-2012 data. Do you know who put up a 113 wRC+ this year, barely above what Saunders did, with league average defense? Angel Pagan, the Giants’ 5 WAR center fielder. Is Angel Pagan not a playoff caliber starter?

    “But you’re too optimistic!” Even if Saunders doesn’t improve offensively, and doesn’t regress all the way back up to average in CF, he’s basically B.J. Upton. A bunch of playoff teams are going to be chasing Upton in free agency this very year. The suggestion makes little to no sense.

  45. Mariners35 on October 26th, 2012 2:33 pm

    Dumping a reliever and going with 11 pitchers is one way, but it’s probably not realistic in this day and age, especially with a mediocre rotation. Assume that no Major League manager is going to go with six relievers

    Why assume a mediocre rotation? The M’s could spend on a quality upgrade to the rotation if they wished, while still doing the needful around the outfield and 1b. $40m – $45m doesn’t allow for significant upgrades in a 3rd starter, 2 outfielders and (if aforementioned OF don’t also do 1b) a league-average first baseman?

    And why assume no ML manager is going to go with six relievers? Is there study and analysis that says it doesn’t work? I’ve found none on Fangraphs.

    Or is insisting on a 7-man pen just a lack of faith that any front office would try something perceived as radical or unusual? If that’s the case you could also build the lineups and roster on the assumption that Wedge is a sub-par manager and can’t be trusted to use personnel correctly… but that’s not setting the club up for success either.

    All that said, if a 7-man pen is absolutely iron-clad, then yes, your argument logically comes together that there is a roster math problem trying to have the right catching depth and bench depth, with how things line up here.

  46. Badbadger on October 26th, 2012 2:40 pm

    It seems to me that if the M’s want Montero to catch they need to send him to Tacoma to learn how to do that or to be the starting catcher in Seattle instead of Jaso.

    It doesn’t make sense to me for them to do that though. Montero’s value is supposed to be that he is potentially an elite bat. Making him catcher would be trying to get value out of something he doesn’t seem to be good at to the detriment of something he IS supposedly good at, and which we badly need. Unless Zunino busts he doesn’t have a future with the M’s as starting catcher anyway.

  47. Dave on October 26th, 2012 2:46 pm

    They don’t have $40 – $45 million to spend this winter. They probably have ~$20 million, assuming they don’t cut payroll again. Even if you’re optimistic that they might push it up a bit, they’re more in the $25 million range. There’s no way the team is adding $40 million in new players this winter.

    And, really, all you have to do is look around baseball and see how many teams carried six relievers last year. Look at the super progressive teams like the Rays – they carried seven. Look at the old school teams like the Twins – they carried seven. Everyone carries seven relievers now, because relief pitching has gotten significantly more specialized over the last 30 years, and managers would rather have a situational match-up specialist than an extra pinch hitter.

    This isn’t about Eric Wedge. Every team in baseball is carrying seven relievers now. It’s the nature of the game, not the manager in Seattle.

  48. Steve Nelson on October 26th, 2012 4:00 pm

    Here’s the deal – if you want Montero in the C vs LHP/DH vs RHP role, you have to show how you’re going to make the roster work around that. Dumping a reliever and going with 11 pitchers is one way, but it’s probably not realistic in this day and age, especially with a mediocre rotation. Assume that no Major League manager is going to go with six relievers – show you can fill out a useful Major League bench with Montero in the C/DH role and still find room for some kind of productive DH vs RHPs that makes the whole thing worthwhile to begin with. Remember, you need a fourth OF and at least one reserve infielder who can play SS, and thanks to Guti and Ryan’s durability issues, you better be okay with them playing fairly regularly

    Ka-ching. That’s what virtually everyone who is proposing alternatives is failing to do. Various options have been proposed, but almost no one is actually trying to build a roster and show how their roster would work in practice.

    Sure it’s more work to do that, but that’s what Dave’s done. If you want to rebut, fine. But similarly show how your roster is going to work out in practice, look at who sits and who plays, and how it provides flexibility for substitutions.

    ******

    As for the 6-man vs. 7-man bullpen, ultimately this comes down to a decision when adding the last player to the roster as to whether the marginal value of a run prevented is more or less than the marginal value of an additional run prevented. Practically every team in baseball has decided that when they are deciding on the 25th slot on the roster, preventing an additional run is more valuable than creating an additional run.

  49. nwade on October 26th, 2012 4:18 pm

    “Practically every team in baseball has decided that when they are deciding on the 25th slot on the roster, preventing an additional run is more valuable than creating an additional run.”

    I agree with you, but I think we can phrase it better than that:

    Managers and FO’s seem to have decided that the run-prevention provided by an additional reliever outweighs the _potential_ run-addition of a utility/bench player (who, by definition, is not good enough to have a fulltime role).

  50. SonOfZavaras on October 26th, 2012 7:01 pm

    I think Jesus Montero should be done as a catcher….IF he stays in Seattle.

    There may, however, be an organization that still believes he can provide long-term value at that position (and there’s certainly every indication Montero himself WANTS to stay a catcher) if he’s traded somewhere.

    I know Dave has touched on this thought- thoroughly. But I think the element in play here that changed everything is: Zunino’s been nothing short of awesome so far in his short pro career, and has forced the organization to think he MIGHT just shove himself right into 2013 plans at some point.

    If Zunino had been ho-hum after signing, a spark of promise here, a spark of promise there….but not setting the baseball world on fire? Then there’d be value in Montero remaining a catcher here in 2013.

    But as Dave lays it out- there just isn’t.

    Myself, I am actually of the opinion that Montero has more value to us if he’s traded away to a team that wants to develop him at first base or catcher. And while I have some ideas on who would be interested, this is not a rosterbatory thread.

    Zunino’s rise and Montero’s positional limitations have changed the picture for us. Now I’m in favor of landing a OF bat in free agency and trading for another while signing a righty-hitting catcher that I don’t mind saying “See ya, thanks for the grins and good luck” to in June-July.

  51. ira on October 26th, 2012 10:25 pm

    In 2012, Montero hit significantly better when he was behind the plate. Can we assume that this was just a statistical abberation, too small of a sample size to be meaningful, or that Montero can be taught to be a good hitter while DHing?

  52. bookbook on October 27th, 2012 12:25 am

    Clearly no one’s going to try it, but I actually think teams would gain a small advantage by going back to an 11-man bullpen. Using the M’s, the one appearance a month that Jeff Gray or early season 2012 Iwakuma gets just doesn’t add much value.

    The 25th man pinch hitter doesn’t either, but… constructing a roster with a 5-man bench instead of 4 would allow a planned platoon at one position. Having watched Roenicke/Lowenstein growing up (there’s Earl Weaver again!), it’s hard to believe there aren’t opportunities to squeeze in an extra win or two on the cheap. Those opportunities would have to be far more probable than Wedge’s 12th pitcher contributing in any meaningful way.

  53. dirk on October 27th, 2012 8:33 am

    I actually think using Montero, Jaso, Napoli and Smoak to fill C, DH, and 1B could work well. ~400 ABs per player. I also may have had too much coffee this morning…

    vs. RHP
    C: Jaso
    1B: Napoli or Smoak
    DH: Montero or Napoli

    vs. LHP
    C: Montero
    1B: Napoli or Smoak
    DH: Napoli or Jaso

  54. Badbadger on October 27th, 2012 8:11 pm

    *I actually think using Montero, Jaso, Napoli and Smoak to fill C, DH, and 1B could work well. ~400 ABs per player.*

    And then what if one or more of those guys turns out to be really good and you don’t want to limit him to 400 ABs? Or what if Mike Zunino comes up?

  55. 300ZXNA on October 27th, 2012 9:12 pm

    Is anyone else hoping that with the fences moving in, that Montero has a good year with the bat and is then flipped for more value to a team that values the ability to make him their C? I realize that if Montero is hitting, people are wondering why we would trade him, but even if he has a good year, he probably wouldn’t be putting up numbers that are all that special for a DH. I know this is more pipe dream than reality . . .

  56. PackBob on October 28th, 2012 10:17 am

    I’m not convinced yet that the Mariners are ready to view Jaso as more than he was in 2012. Hopefully they’ve revised their internal opinion, but writers like Baker keep bringing up the idea that if Jaso were used more he would deteriorate, and suggests that’s Wedge’s take as well. If Wedge still holds that opinion, the Mariners may try for Olivo 2.0 and keep Jaso limited to a similar role in 2013. Hope not.

    For Montero, put him into the full-time DH role and find out if he can hit. That should be the primary objective. If he turns out to be an average hitter, there is even less reason to want him to catch. A DH for the Mariners that can hit, really hit, would be something to marvel at.

    Give Jaso a shot at primary catcher. Find a second catcher and let Montero concentrate on hitting (and running), and be the emergency catcher (now that Munenori is gone).

  57. Snuffy on October 28th, 2012 1:59 pm

    The Mariners 2013 inter league away schedule shows the following…

    @ Pirates May 7 & 8
    @ Padres May 29 & 30
    @ Reds July 5, 6 & 7
    @ Cards Sept. 13, 14 & 15

    That’s 10 games w/o the DH. Where does Montero fit in for those 10 games, especially w/LHSP? It may be that he is just used as a PH for these games and gets a breather. There is no need to use him as a catcher at all at this point. I would like to see him work out at 1b but an eye test (not at all accurate) leads me to believe he would never be useful as a defensive 1b-man.

    Personally, I’d like to see him go catch in the NL and acquire a better hitting corner outfielder or a good first-baseman if Smoak stalls again.

  58. Typical Idiot Fan on October 28th, 2012 2:04 pm

    And then what if one or more of those guys turns out to be really good and you don’t want to limit him to 400 ABs? Or what if Mike Zunino comes up?

    You worry about that when it happens, but if one of those guys steps up, you play him more, obviously, and you play the person not performing as well not more, obviously. As for Zunino, if you absolutely have to call him up, because he’s making such a case to be here, then you can easily trade one of them to a different contender for what you need. Napoli, assuming healthy and hitting well enough, could easily be sent to someone who has a bigger need at catcher / DH / 1B. Shouldn’t be that difficult to manage.

    Kindly note, I’m not agreeing with Dirk’s suggestion, but it doesn’t take a lot of thought to handle the “problems” you mention.

  59. mjf99 on October 28th, 2012 2:34 pm

    Wait, wait!!! Isn’t Figgins a backup for every infield spot except first *and* the outfield too! Trick or treat folks, your worst nightmare… He’s Baaack!.

  60. californiamariner on October 28th, 2012 10:48 pm

    My main concern: it was said in this post that the the Mariners don’t want Montero to play first base. Where do they think Montero is going to play? Zunino, Jaso, Montero can’t all spilt catching/DH duties. That would leave one person out of the lineup everyday. This might be okay for the first half of the season, but I think we all expect Zunino to be a big contributor before long. When Zunino comes up 3 of the best hitters should be catchers. Unless they figure out some defensive alignment unknown to baseball, you can’t get 3 catchers on the field every day.

  61. Badbadger on October 29th, 2012 10:17 am

    *Kindly note, I’m not agreeing with Dirk’s suggestion, but it doesn’t take a lot of thought to handle the “problems” you mention.*

    But why not just sign a player for a position of need instead? Like an outfielder?

  62. stevemotivateir on October 29th, 2012 5:57 pm

    @california

    I’ve had the same thought. It seems a few people have missed the comment(s) that Montero isn’t really being considered for first.

    The bottom line is that Montero wont (or shouldn’t) be catching here. Maybe the M’s intend to showcase him, maybe he’s gone before Zunino even arrives? This is why Dave’s post about possibly trading him made a lot of sense. My only worry is that somehow Wedge and Z see it differently and move Jaso instead. Or nearly as bad, designate him as part of a platoon at DH. I would lose any confidence I have left in Wedge if he were to do that.

  63. rrwrayiii on October 31st, 2012 1:28 pm

    The 25th man on the roster… are they really THAT valuable of a roster spot? Last year the first 2 months of the season, Hisashi Iwakuma appeared in FIVE games. He was on the active roster the entire time. Chone Figgins had 28 at-bats the final 3 MONTHS of the season. Let’s not kid ourselves either, these at-bats weren’t because the team NEEDED him to play, it’s because Wedge was just TRYING to keep him from sitting every day all day. In the NL this roster spot issue would have more validity, but the American League?

  64. mychal on November 13th, 2012 8:33 am

    All Montero has done behind the plate is catch a no-hitter and have higher statistics as a hitter when catching.

    It’s easy to say he sucks as a catcher but what exactly are his shortcomings?

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