In what has thus far been a successful off-season for the Mariners, a main area of concern remains: the catcher position. Mike Zunino proved to be capable at the end of last year, but he faces what figures to be an up and down learning curve in his first full season as the Mariners' starting catcher. The Mariners need a veteran catcher (and not Jesus Sucre) to mentor Zunino and prove to be a capable hitter in the possible case of Zunino needing increased development at the Triple-A level. Thus, the veteran acquisition cannot be another Henry Blanco who simply exists as a warm body behind the plate (although his sudden knack for hitting grand slams didn't hurt).
No, the catcher the Mariners choose to add should be around the age of 30 with solid years of production ahead of him, and in that case, the market is quickly drying up. Brian McCann, the premier catching free agent of this offseason went to the Yankees on a five year, $85 million deal. Jarrod Saltalammachia found a new home in Miami for 3 years/$21 million, while Carlos Ruiz signed an extension with the Phillies for 3 years/$26 million. And Dioner Navarro, who I had my eye on and thought would fill the hole in Seattle quite nicely, went to Toronto on a two year, $8 million contract. Even the 37-year-old Corky Miller and his impressive mustache is off the market after re-siging with Cincinnati on a minor league contract.
The only viable options left on the market appear to be John Buck and Humerto Quintero. While re-signing Quintero to a minor league contract would be the smallest of splashes and bore me to death, it would actually be a pretty smart move. He wasn't bad last year, is a proven commodity and is already familiar with Zunino and the Mariners' organization. A career .234 hitter who stole a base in 2011, it can reasonably be expected for him to hit above the Mendoza line and provide a positive (yet decimal) WAR, as he has consistently done since 2009 (his WAR was 0.6 last year). No, Quintero would be boring but would serve as a low-risk, possible-reward option who is definitely better than Sucre in the possible chance of Zunino needing additional time with the Rainiers.
Now that we're all sad an entire paragraph was devoted to Humberto Quintero as a viable option for the Mariners, I will move on to John Buck, who I whole-heartedly endorse and believe should be seen be in a Seattle Mariners uniform this season (but only this season). John Buck hit a modest .222 last year but slugged 15 homeruns and racked up 62 RBIs which isn't shabby for 110 games. Throughout his career, he has been consistently average (.234 lifetime average, 13.3 homeruns per year) and I believe it would be reasonable to expect a continuation of that statline. If he does hit in the .230 range with 10-15 homeruns, I would be perfectly happy slotting him into the lineup to keep Zunino's position warm. And, I believe we could sign him relatively cheap (1 yr, $2-3 million) despite him (and possibly Kurt Suzuki) being the last viable hitting catchers on the market and the possibility of the Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks trying to sign him to backup Yosmil Pinto and Miguel Montero, respectively.
If we are unable to acquire John Buck though, the only other option appears to be trading for a catcher. Carlos Corporan is the first catcher to come to mind, as he is currently one of three catchers on the Astros' depth chart. At age 29, last year was his first full season in the majors where he achieved modest production with a .225 average, 7 homeruns, 20 RBIs and modest defense with a 24% caught-stealing percentage through 64 games. Corporan becomes arbitration eligible next year and, if he proves to be capable, could be a viable long-term backup to Zunino with him not becoming a free agent until 2018. In addition, Corporan could be acquired relatively cheap in a simple swap for a player such as Carlos Pequero.
Brett Hayes could be another option via trade, holding a career .220 average over five years of limited playing time, but he appeared in only five games last year and if it comes down to that tier of player, I would be happier simply sticking with Jesus Sucre and hoping he improves.
Please, just sign John Buck.