The Seattle Mariners probably need offensive production more than they need to upgrade defense at the catcher position. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make a move to upgrade defense at the catcher position. General manager Jack Zduriencik faces that quandary at this week’s winter meetings, and possibly beyond.
Jesus Montero and John Jaso are currently in line to share catching duties, and neither is a Gold Glove candidate. They can, however, swing the bat. The underrated Jaso hit .276/.394/.456, while Montero, who possesses a high offensive ceiling, hit .260/.298/.386, with 15 home runs.
If the Mariners do acquire a defensive-minded catcher, it will likely be as a platoon partner for Jaso, with Montero seeing most of his action at first base and/or DH. Similar to the deal that brought Jaso over from Tampa Bay last November, the player would also fit the undervalued-asset category. Kelly Shoppach, a solid defender who hits well against left-handed pitching, is the type of player that fits that description.
Zduriencik was asked about the team’s catching situation, and what went into the Jaso trade, in a lobby conversation at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel.
Zduriencik on acquiring Jaso for Josh Lueke on November 27, 2011: “In the Jaso case, we had a need and [the Rays] liked the arm they got. We liked that Jaso gives you really good at bats. Plus, a left-handed-hitting catcher is a nice commodity to have.
“We do our due diligence in any trade. You dot your Is and cross your Ts. You have the baseball people look at the statistical analysis side of it, and you talk to your people who have seen the player on the field. You also try to get background information, to find out his makeup.
“Sometimes things move really fast and you just have to make decisions. Guys get put into a deal at the last second and maybe you haven’t done the work you’d like to on them, but for the most part, if you have a little bit of time — you’ve been working on something for awhile — you get the background information and look at all the sabermetrics that are attached to it. How does this guy fit our club and our ballpark? Then you make your call.
“The defensive metrics weren’t particularly great in Jaso’s case, but in terms of hitting, the scouts that saw him said, “This guy can give you a quality major league at bat.” That was important to us, because we had a lot of young kids who were cutting their teeth, and some our veteran guys didn’t quite fit that. He also occasionally led off. He wasn’t your typical catcher.
“We knew what he was defensively, but on the other side, his skill set was what we were looking for at that position. The way he approaches an at bat, particularly against a right-handed pitcher… we just didn’t have that type of guy. And he’s lived up to what we thought he would be.”
On the catching situation going forward: “Right now, we’re going to have the two guys, Montero and Jaso, catch. You’ve got your left-right combo, and that’s nice. Both have their skill set that they bring to the table. Neither is what you would call a defensive receiver. They’re both more offensive catchers.
“We’ve put a lot of hope and faith, and trust, in our young kids to take the next step — to get to the next level — to where Jesus Montero becomes what people think he will. You look at Montero and he’s hit the most home runs of any young kid in this organization since A-Rod. He hit 15 and he should add to that this year. He should be driving the ball with better at bats as he gets older and matures. He should really develop into a really good hitter.
“We’ll have our ears open, certainly, to see how the right type of catcher would fit. But you don’t want to take away their ABs right now, just for a defensive catcher. Our needs, quite frankly, are offense. But we do have to address a defensive possibility if it exists. You have to entertain any option you have to make your club better.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.