A backup catcher is someone more on the team in case of insurance than anything else. They play one out of every four games, need to get along with the pitchers and if they decide to be able to hit the ball ever so slightly - that is an added bonus.
The Seattle Mariners apparently liked enough what they saw in Jesus Sucre last year that he is coming around for another potential go around. When Sucre was called up last year, the guesses about how he would fare in the major leagues held true.
Sucre was a fantastic defensive catcher and his pitch framing was quite nice. His offense was also completely rancid. Sucre took 64 trips to the plate, struck out a quarter of the time and never decided to take four balls for a free trip. He hit .213/.213/.246 all for a wRC+ of 26.
Out of all catchers who went to the plate as many times as Sucre, that wRC+ mark is the third worst in the major leagues. He is the only catcher to go to the plate at least 64 times at not draw a single walk.
All in all, Sucre's offense was so abysmal it was enough to counteract whatever defensive value he had. According to Fangraphs, Sucre finished with a WAR of 0.0. That doesn't seem like such a big deal, because he only played in 21 games. But that was because he did a timeshare with John Buck last year. This year, the backup catching spot is Sucre's job to win and Steamer projections aim to give him 149 at bats.
If we are nitpicking about the backup catcher for the Mariners, then things this offseason are probably going pretty well. The fact of the matter is that the Mariners were one game out of the playoffs last season. This isn't Sucre's fault, but it shows how just a little upgrade at any position can go a long way.
The question is whether or not the Mariners can even upgrade at the position. The easiest answer seemed to be Geovany Soto, who although his days of mashing with the Cubs are long behind him, provides a bit of pop with solid defense. The White Sox swooped in and picked up Soto on a minor league contract. The Mariners, instead, went out and signed John Baker.
Baker is perfectly fine defensively and is technically a slight upgrade offensively over Sucre. That is about the same thing as calling vomit green a better shade of paint for a kitchen than poop brown. Baker is in to give some competition in spring training, but not much else.
With that, the Mariners are hanging out with the combination of Mike Zunino and Sucre/Baker. If last year is any indication, the Mariners will have one of the worst hitting backstop combinations in baseball this upcoming season. Zunino has pop, and that is exciting. Unfortunately his pop doesn't translate to him being a good hitter. Of all the catchers with at least 450 plate appearances last season, Zunino's wRC+ of 86 was second worst to Jason Castro's mark of 84.
The Mariners might not have much wiggle room, or think that better other options aren't necessary. That part of the equation is up for argument. If the backup catcher is utterly worthless at the plate, but pretty good behind the plate, is it worth suffering through the 150 plate appearances? Or is the fact that Sucre might be a career 0.0 WAR player not something to worry about because he essentially is a replacement player -- not adding much but also not detrimental.
One other option that exists is minor league catcher John Hicks. The Mariners are excited enough about Hicks potential that they added him to the 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Hicks hit .277/.330/.376 last season in AAA with a wRC+ of 84. He reportedly has solid pitch framing abilities and shows at least a minute amount of hitting ability in his bat.
Again, this is all nitpicking on a role player on a team. That is a good sign about the construction of this team for the most part. But it is also something to keep in mind. If Zunino regresses somewhat next year, or hits more to his 2013 totals, the Mariners might have an overall issue with contributions behind the plate.