Mariners Call Up Mike Zunino

Dave · June 11, 2013 at 11:51 am · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


126 Responses to “Mariners Call Up Mike Zunino”

  1. nwade on June 11th, 2013 5:00 pm

    WOW has this comment thread really spiraled out of control…

    FACT: Zunino hasn’t ever been with the Big League club. He’s never worked with the Mariners team during the season. He has no reason to know the pitchers, coaches, or position-players ANY better than some outside veteran that the team could’ve bought for cheap. There’s no reason to believe Zunino could “give Shoppach a break” any faster/sooner than another veteran. Quite the opposite, actually: there’s a heck of a good argument to make that a veteran who’s worked with a lot of Big League pitchers and teams could garner respect/trust a lot quicker than some snot-nosed kid who’s fresh outta College and never done a 162-game grind.

    So I’m sorry; but anyone claiming that Zunino was our “best option” doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
    The Mariners gain NOTHING from having Zunino in the Majors right now, once you realize how inconsequential the cost of a veteran backup-catcher is for a couple of months.

    Put another way: We don’t know what it will or won’t do to Zunino; but you have to admit that there are _possible_ risks and downsides. If you’re a rational person, you weigh those risks against your potential gains. There’s literally NO substantive gains that Zunino provides this season:
    He can’t change the course of the season
    He doesn’t save the M’s a ton of money over another short-term backup catcher
    He’s not going to draw a ton of fans to the ballpark (until he is a proven performer)
    He doesn’t provide a major skill that cannot be acquired elsewhere

    Our potential downside is not well-defined, but could be very large. But WHY take the risk, for almost no gain (even in the most ideal of scenarios)? It is just NOT a rational or sensible decision.

  2. bookbook on June 11th, 2013 5:02 pm

    Bad move, but he’ll probably be back in Tacoma in two weeks, having had a chance to experience major league offspeed stuff, and knowing even better what he needs to work on and how critical it is that he do so.

    This won’t break Zunino, though it does strike me as counterproductive.

  3. sawsatch on June 11th, 2013 5:12 pm

    But he gets to play every day in Tacoma; not so here.

  4. qwerty on June 11th, 2013 5:26 pm

    “The Mariners gain NOTHING from having Zunino in the Majors right now, once you realize how inconsequential the cost of a veteran backup-catcher is for a couple of months.”

    So are you saying this decision came because the FO refused to spend more bad money?’

  5. nwade on June 11th, 2013 5:34 pm

    qwerty – Define “bad money”.

    There is a HUGE difference between spending tens-of-millions-of-dollars on the wrong player, and spending a-hundred-thousand-dollars on a temporary fix. A couple of months of major-league salary is a pittance.

    You’ve now got potential service-time issues with Zunino and if he does well he’ll cost you MORE than what you “saved”, when he goes to Arbitration! And if he flames out then you have to spend MORE hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars on another MLB catcher.

    This is in no way a cost-saving move for the organization.

  6. scraps on June 11th, 2013 5:43 pm

    Incredibly, some people will defend this. Probably here in this thread.

    Me, five hours ago. I didn’t anticipate how, well, ludicrous some of their arguments were. It’s discouraging; some of you deserve Z.

    Sigh. Man, I was happily encouraged by Z, through years of losing. Eventually I lost my enthusiasm, and finally realized, sadly, that Z was not right for the Mariners; but I never thought that he, Bavasi-like, would get desperate enough to do this.

    Well, actually, I should have known that Z was desperate when he assembled this outfield. Ah well.

  7. MrZDevotee on June 11th, 2013 5:53 pm

    Except Zunino HAS caught these guys, in Spring, and in Tacoma (Bonderman, assuming Ramirez is coming soon, etc.)… I’m still against the decision, but your point was flawed a bit.

    Zunino can jump right in quicker than someone outside the organization (assuming no prior connection to the M’s)…

    Apples and oranges, and still not a good decision, but like eponymous said (and I said way up above) this decision has more to do with the craptastic way this roster was built than saving jobs, or rushing Zunino.

    And unlike Dave, I think as soon as Sucre is healthy, Zunino goes back to Tacoma.

    He’s playing the role of Bantz, and is better AND more familiar with the crop of pitchers currently on the roster.

    Just get him back to Tacoma, asap, please.

  8. eponymous coward on June 11th, 2013 5:59 pm

    So I’m sorry; but anyone claiming that Zunino was our “best option” doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

    “on the roster” =! better than picking up someone who just got DFA’ed like Baker.

    I agree that it’s not a great decision, but the M’s may be in “screw it, play the kids” mode now…

  9. casey on June 11th, 2013 6:08 pm

    Count me as in favour of the move. A fun move – a reason to go to the ballpark, watch the game, root for the home team and players (last night’s lineup was horrible). That’s what baseball is for me – fun, a past time, sport. Russell Wilson worked out pretty good for Seahawks despite the risk of post traumatic stress of playing in the bigs early. He fills a need on many levels – I am pumped to see Zunino play – thumbs up from me.

  10. nwade on June 11th, 2013 6:14 pm

    “Screw it, play the kids” still only makes sense if you think playing the kids NOW will make you better in the long-run.

    Let’s look at the ideal scenario: Zunino comes up and becomes amazing. Is there any reason to suggest that he couldn’t have done the same thing later this season, or next spring? Is some small amount of extra MLB experience for Zunino _now_ at this very moment in history supposed to somehow make up for the extra money he’s going to cost the team (in that ideal scenario) when his service-time clock counts down sooner?

    Tell me how Zunino benefits MORE from occasional/part-time MLB playing time over his everyday duties in AAA.

  11. nwade on June 11th, 2013 6:19 pm

    casey – You’re talking about changing 1 man on the entire roster (OK, two if you count the DFA). Its not going to make the M’s much more-likely to win. In effect, you’re rooting for a bad team with occasional hope. And not hope because of a _good_ player being brought in; merely hope because that player is _unknown_.

    And in this case, like Felix starts, he’s probably only going to contribute once or twice a week; which means your odds of seeing a shitty game at the ballpark are still VERY high.

    I understand your emotional reaction, I do… But wouldn’t you rather have a team that was improving as a whole and was winning more often on a consistent basis – so that when you DO go to the ballpark you’re likely to see and enjoy a win? Aren’t games more fun when guys are getting on base and scoring runs with regularity?

  12. MrZDevotee on June 11th, 2013 6:27 pm

    And if we want REALLY comical, off that charts shithouse luck with this lineup, we currently have no 1B in our midst…

    Morales is a late scratch for tonight. Alex Liddi is our 1B.

    No starting Major League catcher…
    No starting Major League center fielder…
    1/2 a starting Major League shortstop…
    No starting Major League first basemen…
    2/5’s of a Major League rotation…

    How did we get here?

    Yay Mariners.

  13. MrZDevotee on June 11th, 2013 6:28 pm

    “getting on base and scoring runs with regularity?”

    You’ll have to explain this statement… It makes no sense. Does this actually happen for other teams?

  14. JG on June 11th, 2013 6:40 pm

    Great. Wedge will have another opportunity to destroy a young bat. The front office and Wedge need to go.

  15. bookbook on June 11th, 2013 6:44 pm

    If they don’t start him five times a week, here, then they should be fired for that offense, alone.

  16. Bryce on June 11th, 2013 7:20 pm

    As an aside to all of the ARod talk in this thread, I seem to remember that part of his first contract with the M’s was that they agreed to major league call ups when rosters expanded. I don’t think the first year his call up to the big club had anything to do with his minor league performance. I think the M’s were contractually obligated to do it, whether he was hitting .200 or .400. So I’d hesitate to read anything in to what they did with him vs. Zunino.

    I freely admit that as I slide towards 40, my memory is probably failing along with everything else, but does anybody else remember this?

  17. vertigoman on June 11th, 2013 7:33 pm

    After reading Z’s comments I’m off the ledge. He did nothing but speak to the future and temper expectations for Zunino. Not exactly trying to sell tickets here.

    Halicom, Gman I’m right there with you. Square in the middle.

    Baker and Co is trying to make this about their ongoing war with everything Bloggy. Shut up and go back to preaching to the choir.
    Dave is probably over reacting a bit due to the overall context of the roster issue. Which Dave is 100% right about. I just don’t think this is about job security. They did call up Sucre first remember. also, GmZ actually made it sound like its temporary. So hopefully we can all chill out ( myself included) and enjoy watching Zunino K 3 times tomorrow instead of Shoppach.

    And honestly, who wants to go to a game and watch Brantz catch in Tacoma much less Seattle?

  18. scraps on June 11th, 2013 8:01 pm

    Baker “and Co”? You mean somebody has signed up as Baker’s Me-Too?

  19. NorahW on June 11th, 2013 8:23 pm

    Bryce, FWIW, Baseball Reference says A-Rod’s first MLB game was July 8, 1994. I think he was just doing so well at the AAA level that they felt the best thing they could do was to call him up. I don’t recall if he stayed the whole rest of the year though–also that was the season that was cut short by the strike.

  20. Breadbaker on June 11th, 2013 8:41 pm

    I don’t think ARod’s call up was contractually obligated. What I recall is that he was put on the 40 man from the get go. That’s a difference from Zunino right there. So any ARod call did not have any meaningful roster effect.

  21. eponymous coward on June 11th, 2013 8:51 pm

    Tell me how Zunino benefits MORE from occasional/part-time MLB playing time over his everyday duties in AAA.

    What part of “I agree that it’s not a great decision” and “Zunino’s being rushed” is not sinking in? Do I need to do this in Braille? Sanskrit? Interpretive dance?


  22. vertigoman on June 11th, 2013 8:51 pm

    While I haven’t set eyes on his blog or “columns” in over a year I can guarantee the flock is still as spirited as ever.

    Lots of people that start or end posts with “sigh”. Never read the comments, words of wisdom from twitter of all places.

  23. nvn8vbryce on June 11th, 2013 8:59 pm

    MrZ, I can tell you how we got where we are, but it involves an anatomical
    procreative impossibility regarding Wedge and GmZ.

  24. Bryce on June 11th, 2013 9:46 pm

    I found what I was looking for after googling. Boras negotiated a provision into ARod’s first contact that required the Mariners to call him up to the majors by September 1994. I suspect it had something to do with starting his service time clock. So the bottom line is they called him up because they had to, not necessarily because it was the right thing to do. They probably pushed the timetable up because they knew the strike was coming.

    I’m glad I haven’t completely lost my memory.

  25. nwade on June 11th, 2013 9:55 pm

    Sorry, eponymous – I read your previous comment about “screw it, play the kids now” as a defense of the move/decision-making process.

  26. scraps on June 11th, 2013 10:43 pm

    vertigoman: Oh, i see where that comment about “Baker and Co” was, then. Baker’s Minions. I can’t believe there are people who look up to him. So he has published another wimp-filled attack on USSMariner, and the result is a temporary lowering the tone here to Times-land?

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