How Badly Did The Mariners Want Henry Blanco?
As you know now, the Mariners picked up Henry Blanco and dumped Kelly Shoppach. Blanco was just dropped by the Blue Jays, and Shoppach’s going to go somewhere else, since I can’t imagine he’ll eventually report to Triple-A. It’s a weird move, in that it’s pretty lateral and it came out of nowhere and the Mariners are bad. But because the Mariners are bad, it doesn’t really matter what this means for 2013, and neither Blanco nor Shoppach are long-term assets. Pretty much every transaction leads to some sort of freakout. There’s no reason for a freakout over Henry Blanco or Kelly Shoppach.
What interests me most about this is a quote from Jack Zduriencik in the official press release:
“We had interest in Henry this off season,” Zduriencik said. “And recent circumstances developed allowing us to acquire Henry. We are pleased to be able to add him to our 25 man roster and look forward to his contributions.”
How that reads is that the Mariners wanted Blanco, but he wound up signing with Toronto, so the Mariners settled on Shoppach instead. Clearly, the Mariners prefer Blanco to Shoppach now, and it’s not like anything has changed about them in the last couple months. They’re still the same guys, so the Mariners would’ve preferred Blanco in the offseason.
If Blanco had just wanted to go to the Blue Jays instead, fine. The Blue Jays looked like they’d be a good team. But the Blue Jays signed Blanco to a non-guaranteed $750,000 contract in January. The Mariners signed Shoppach to a guaranteed $1.5 million contract in February, with an additional $500,000 in possible bonuses. It follows that the Mariners should’ve offered at least that much to Blanco, if not more. I don’t know what they actually did, but something is curious here. Did Blanco prefer the Blue Jays that much, that he would’ve turned down a lot more money and a roster and playing time guarantee? Why weren’t the Mariners able to get Blanco when they first wanted to? I suppose at the time of Blanco’s signing, the M’s still had John Jaso on the roster, and that might’ve complicated things, but if they really wanted Henry Blanco it seems like they could’ve found a way to get him, unless he just didn’t want to come. It’s weird. Whatever.
In terms of immediate performance, this move doesn’t matter. Blanco’s a worse hitter than Shoppach, but he’s a better defender, and these are aging backup catchers we’re talking about. Blanco is a lot more suited to a backup role than Shoppach is, and maybe Shoppach didn’t feel like being behind a rookie like Mike Zunino or a healthy Jesus Sucre. Because Blanco is coming up on 42, he doesn’t stand to have a direct impact on the future of the Mariners. The organizational hope is that he mentors Zunino and makes Zunino better from this point forward. That’s the whole idea, and Blanco has admitted as much already. He’s here to help another guy improve, and he’s better at that than Shoppach is, I guess. Zunino has a lot to learn about catching in the big leagues and Blanco has been doing it for a while. Zunino isn’t going to learn to hit from Henry Blanco, but I should hope he already knows that and won’t try.
Of course, Zunino’s defensive stuff is supposed to be his strength. Of course, the Mariners have actual coaches, and Eric Wedge was a catcher in his day. Of course, we don’t know if this is actually going to make a difference, because it’s basically like a smaller version of the Mariners signing Raul Ibanez for his leadership. Blanco’s been able to remain employed for a long time, but he’s bounced around a lot since 2008, so it’s not like anyone has found him of incredible value. Zunino might develop independent of Blanco, but the most important lesson is this doesn’t matter at all in the short term and there’s really no meaningful downside. If Blanco’s a little worse than Shoppach, so what? So actual what?
This does further suggest that Zunino’s here for good. If Blanco’s here to help mentor Zunino, then Zunino probably isn’t going back to Triple-A when Jesus Sucre heals up. That’s not a guarantee and even the team is probably going to be somewhat open-minded, depending on how Zunino looks, but it would be a surprise to me if Zunino were demoted down the line. This is the direction they’re going, and Zunino’s probably going to play a lot, ready or not. They think he’ll become ready. Maybe he will. Maybe with Blanco’s help!
As a teenager, Henry Blanco was a third baseman. He caught his first game as a professional in 1995. He made the move for good in 1996, after he debuted in the Dodgers organization in 1990. You see a lot of catchers move to other positions. You don’t often see it the other way around. That’s a thing about Henry Blanco you know now.