Mariners Trade Yoervis Medina For Mike Zunino Off Days
Officially, the deal is Yoervis Medina to the Cubs in exchange for catcher Welington Castillo. And, indeed, that’s what’s happening — the Mariners are giving up the Medina asset, and they’re receiving a whole new person, who will have a locker in the clubhouse and everything. But this isn’t a deal that’s really about Medina, from the Mariners’ perspective, nor is it really about Castillo. Castillo’s positive quality is that, okay, he’s fine enough. So he’s a catcher actually capable of letting Mike Zunino get some rest.
There’s any number of reasons why the Mariners have been relatively disappointing, and I suppose you don’t have to look much further than Robinson Cano, who, I’ll remind you, has another eight years after this year. And Dustin Ackley sucks, even more than he’s ever sucked, and you wonder if he’s okay or if he’s been replaced by one of those alien people-impersonators from Men In Black. But at some point you get to Mike Zunino, who has yet to make offensive progress. In fairness, he’s actually been one of the team’s better hitters in May. But, in May, he also hasn’t walked. His approach has become less disciplined. His last base on balls was 18 strikeouts ago.
Zunino, basically, looks like Zunino looked last season. Maybe a little better, maybe a little worse, depending on the day you see him. There was talk in spring training he was learning to use the opposite field, but actually he’s pulled more baseballs this year than he did last year or the year before. The defense? Zunino is good at defense. He knows how to catch, and he seems to know how to handle a pitching staff. Big responsibilities, for a player his age. But, catching is hard. There’s a reason why catchers tend to develop slower offensively than other guys. They have a lot going on, and one theory is that Zunino is just too exhausted to improve.
This year he’s fifth in baseball in innings caught. Last year he was fourth. There have been six games this year Zunino didn’t start, but he’s still played in four of them. A catcher on a roster with two catchers can never completely take a day off, because you don’t know if the other guy might get hurt, but there are degrees of rest, of peace of mind. Zunino’s been given a heavy workload, and Jesus Sucre couldn’t give him much of a breather. Sucre, we know, is a skilled defensive catcher. We all liked his framing, back when the Mariners didn’t have a framer. But Sucre swings the bat like a head of lettuce you put a baseball bat next to. You don’t want a Sucre in the lineup on back-to-back days. You don’t want Sucre at the plate in a high-leverage late-inning situation. You pinch-hit for a Sucre. When you pinch-hit for a catcher, you have to bring in the other catcher.
Welington Castillo is not good. Welington Castillo is not bad. You now understand Welington Castillo. He’s not as good a defender as Sucre. He’s certainly not as good a defender as Zunino. He’ll lose these pitchers some strikes. But, he makes a decent amount of contact. From time to time, he’ll draw a walk. Last year he hit a home run 432 feet. The year before he reached 443. Castillo projects as a slightly below-average hitter, which is not unlike what he’s been for his career. He just turned 28 a few weeks ago. And, significantly, last year Castillo played in 110 games. That followed a 113-game campaign. Granted, the Cubs went 86-124 in his starts, and 53-61 in games he didn’t start, and that’s troubling, but there’s also a lot of noise in those numbers and the Cubs were bad. Castillo is adequate, maybe a third-tier backstop, and he’s handled a regular major-league workload while also handling being a reserve.
For now, the hope is that having Castillo can buy Zunino some rest. He shouldn’t need to play as often as he does, and the team will be more comfortable using Castillo more than it used Sucre. And that could be important for Zunino, as rest might be able to keep him from getting into and developing bad habits. More bad habits, I guess. With more rest, there’s more focus. With more focus, there might be better results. With Welington Castillo, Mike Zunino can afford to relax on designated days.
And if, in time, it still doesn’t look like Zunino is getting better, Castillo’s a more capable stopgap than Sucre. Either Castillo could take more of Zunino’s playing time, or Zunino could get demoted, and then Sucre or somebody else could come up while Zunino tries to learn some lessons in Tacoma. From the sounds of things, the organization is pretty committed to trying to get Zunino to work out in the bigs, but maybe that’s stubbornness, or maybe things just haven’t gotten bad enough. One should hope that they never do, but things can have a way of going wrong, and minds can be changed by enough swings and enough misses.
On Tuesday, the Mariners added a new catcher, and it seems to me to be about the old catcher, who’s also something of a new catcher. He’s a young catcher in whom the Mariners believe, and he’s a young catcher the Mariners think should be a part of the long-term core. Before that happens, the catcher needs to not suck when he’s hitting, and maybe he just needs a little more rest. We’re easily impressed by those who soldier through fatigue, but seldom is it actually helpful. Your body needs time to restore. Mike Zunino is presumably no different.
As for Medina going away? He’s got live stuff and bad command. He’s missing a couple miles per hour now, relative to before, and the Cubs think it’s probably mechanical. If Medina were to put everything together, he could close. If Medina were to put just enough together, he’d be last year’s Medina. Last year’s Medina was no one’s favorite bullpen arm. These guys are everywhere, and it’s impossible to predict which ones will have futures and which ones will frustrate through to retirement. If it makes you feel better, Medina probably wasn’t going to find his strikes as a Mariner. One of the upsides in not believing in your own player development.