Mariners Call Up Mike Zunino
Got it confirmed from someone who would know: Mike Zunino has gotten the callup, catching a plane from Vegas to Seattle this afternoon
— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) June 11, 2013
Well, here’s act one of the “I Don’t Want To Get Fired” playbook; the Mariners have decided to call up Mike Zunino from Tacoma, according to Larry Stone, and he’ll join the team in Seattle in time for today’s game. You can bet that Brandon Bantz will be DFA’d to make room for him on both the 25 and 40 man rosters, and they’re not calling Zunino up to sit on the bench; he’s going to take over as at least the semi-full time catcher.
On one hand, you can justify this as a “need” move, since Kelly Shoppach has been carrying far too heavy of a workload and Brandon Bantz is a minor league player who is only in Seattle because of injuries. However, it wouldn’t have been that difficult to find a suitable part-time Major League catcher to give Shoppach a break. For instance, the Padres just DFA’d John Baker yesterday, so he’s available for basically nothing. If the Mariners wanted a veteran big leaguer to take some of Shoppach’s load, they could have acquired one at minimal or no cost.
Instead, this is a hail mary to try and save some jobs. Both Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge are in the final year of their contracts, and they almost certainly know that they need to show some progress in the second half of the year in order to get another contract. The team isn’t performing well, the young core hasn’t lived up to expectations, and right now, there’s no good argument either one can make that they should be retained. If they catch lightning in a bottle with Mike Zunino and he has a monster second half, he might just provide the kind of hope and faith in the rebuilding effort that both men need in order to keep themselves employed with the Mariners.
But, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of reason to think that Zunino is actually ready to provide that hope and faith. He’s leaving Tacoma with a .238/.303/.503 batting line that shows his power potential but also the raw nature of his approach at the plate. Zunino got off to a very strong start to the season, but once he started facing a steady diet of breaking balls, things went south in a hurry. He drew two walks and struck out 26 times in May, posting a .278 on base percentage in the process. The PCL is basically the land of offense, and Zunino’s been the offensive equivalent of Raul Ibanez down there.
The power is real, and if pitchers make the mistake of challenging him with fastballs at the big league level, he’s going to hit some home runs. He’s also going to make a lot of outs, and look pretty silly in the process, because Zunino isn’t ready to hit big league pitching yet. Plain and simple, he’s being rushed.
People have often pointed to the Buster Posey comparison as a young catcher who rocketed through the minors, but Zunino hasn’t accomplished anything close to what Posey did as a minor leaguer. In 359 plate appearances at the Triple-A level — 150 more than Zunino has — Posey hit .337/.421/.535 with a 45/53 BB/K ratio. He didn’t have quite the same amount of raw power as Zunino does at this stage, but he was a much more advanced hitter, and the Giants let him go through two full spring trainings as a professional before handing him the starting job.
A year ago, Zunino was preparing for the College World Series. Now, the Mariners are going to ask him to perform well enough to save some jobs. That’s not fair to the kid, and it’s not in the organization’s long term interests. He might be talented enough to learn on the job and make it work well enough to not be a disaster, but there’s no reason the Mariners should be prioritizing the present over the future.
Here’s the reality – the Mariners are 12th in the American League in winning percentage and 14th in run differential. This is not a good team that has just underperformed for a few months and needs a boost to make a playoff run. This is the second or third worst team in the American League. Contending in 2013 is a pipe dream, and anyone trying to convince you otherwise either has an agenda or is bad at math. The people in charge might not want to hear this, but they built a stinker of a roster, and they’re now lying in the bed they made. That bed is probably going to get them fired, but now they’re rushing the team’s best prospect to the big leagues to try and undo their mistakes.
This is what bad organizations do. The chain of events that led to this decision is just littered with poor decision making leading to obvious failures. This move, and the reasons why the team is making this move, is a prime example of why the Mariners need new leadership.