Thursday, March 14, 2013
Zunino will end M's catching nightmares
By David Schoenfield
Every team seems to have that position -- you know, that one that is always a problem, perennially plagued by a past-his-prime vet or soon-to-be failed prospect. For the Seattle Mariners, they've had two positions like that in their franchise history. Left field has historically been a problem -- especially during the Ken Griffey Jr. years when there was a new left fielder almost every year (Greg Briley, Kevin Mitchell, Mike Felder, Eric Anthony, Darren Bragg, Rich Amaral, Glenallen Hill, John Mabry), but the M's did get some good seasons from Phil Bradley in the '80s and Raul Ibanez in the 2000s.
But catcher has also been a big issue, in part because of some investments gone wrong through the years. That's why the Mariners are counting on Mike Zunino to develop into a big star.
The Mariners did receive some good seasons from Dan Wilson (he even made the All-Star team in 1996), who started nine consecutive Opening Days. They brought in Kenji Johjima from Japan and he gave them two decent seasons and two awful ones.
However, it's mostly been a tortured history of catching stories for the Mariners. Witness:
- Before the 1984 season, the Mariners traded Bill Caudill (a pretty good relief pitcher) and Darrel Akerfelds (the seventh pick in the 1983 draft) to Oakland for Bob Kearney. Think about that: Akerfelds never panned out, but the Mariners had just drafted this kid -- ahead of Roger Clemens, mind you -- and a few months later traded him for a mediocre catcher. Kearney had a .265 OBP in four seasons with Seattle.
- In 1983, they had another first-round pick and selected a catcher from Old Dominion named Terry Bell. Clemens was still on the board. He went two picks later.
- In 1986, they brought in veteran Steve Yeager, who was more washed up than your oldest pair of jeans. He and Kearney were so bad they ended up trading highly regarded outfielder Ivan Calderon (who had posted a 134 OPS+ as a rookie in 1985) for backup catcher Scott Bradley. Calderon never became a star, although he had a few nice seasons and made an All-Star team. Again, the point isn't even what Calderon became but what he was when traded.
- Dave Valle was so bad one year a local bar made the cost of a pint the same as his batting average (which ended up at .194).
- In 1994, the Mariners drafted Jason Varitek in the first round out of Georgia Tech. Good pick. Except in 1997 they traded him and Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.
- In 1999, they spent the 11th pick in the draft on high school catcher Ryan Christianson. He never reached the majors.
- With Wilson getting older, they acquired Ben Davis from the Padres in 2002. Remember him? Second overall pick in the 1995 draft? He lasted two years in Seattle.
- In 2005, they made one of the most ill-fated draft picks in recent years, selecting USC backstop Jeff Clement with the third pick -- just ahead of Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce.
- The Rob Johnson years.
- Finally, last year, the Mariners cashed in Michael Pineda -- coming off an outstanding rookie season -- for Jesus Montero to help solve what I'll call the Miguel Olivo Situation. Despite an unmentionable .239 OBP, Olivo still received the bulk of the playing time behind the plate. Of course, Montero probably won't stick long-term at catcher (and his rookie season left some doubts about his ability to hit), so the Mariners drafted Zunino.
Which will hopefully work out for Seattle. That Dan Wilson All-Star season seems like a long time ago.