Back in 2015, the spot behind the plate was a black hole for the Mariners. Mike Zunino couldn't hit a lick and there was no depth to relieve him of his position in the lineup. Jerry Dipoto would not stand for this nonsense, bringing in veterans Chris Iannetta and Steve Clevenger to take over behind the dish and sending Zunino to the minor leagues. How did the new battery and expanded depth work in 2016? Let us explore together, like a magical adventuring duo.
Iannetta was brought in to start in perhaps the league's least surprising move of the offseason. Iannetta had played for a Dipoto run club in Los Angeles / Anaheim / North Mexico before, and he would do so again. The veteran got off to a great start to the season, putting up a 111 wRC+ through the first six weeks of action. After that, Iannetta struggled, hitting to the tune of a just a 62 wRC+ the rest of the way, and showing some aging in his ability to frame pitches and help pitchers gain extra strikes at the bottom of the zone. The right-hander was signed to a two-year deal this offseason, though the second year was a vesting option that will not take hold if reported terms are correct.
The left-handed hitter was acquired as the player in the Mark Trumbo salary dump, but it didn't take long before he was hurt and no longer contributing to the big league club. In 22 games, Clevenger hit just .221 with a .308 OBP, and was eventually suspended in mid-September following a series of unimaginably stupid tweets.
Zunino was the bell-cow back in 2014 and 2015, but the new regime saw a need for a reset and had him spend the first few months of the year in the minor leagues. Z hit .286 in Tacoma, and looked liked a changed hitter when he was recalled to the bigs in early July. Through his first six weeks back in the majors, the former Florida Gator hit .250 with a .394 and six homers in 71 plate appearances, showing improved plate discipline to go with his his tremendous power. Afterwards, pitchers seemed to figure him out, as he'd strike out nearly 40% of the time and put up just a 81 wRC+ the rest of the way.
Zunino will surely be back, but he's shown he's just not an everyday player unless you're willing to eat an easy out at the bottom of your lineup. Clevenger will surely be run out of town after his stupid remarks, but Iannetta may be invited for another go around this offseason. While he's not a quality starter anymore, Iannetta does give the team a veteran presence, and he really shouldn't cost anything as a warm body this spring. The team is going to need a starter, though, and there's never a robust free agent market for starting catchers. Matt Wieters may become available, but he'll cost too much and is frankly a mediocre option at this point in his career. The Yankees may be persuaded to part with Brian McCann, but he carries a large salary and on the wrong side of 30. Odds are the catcher position will be a weak point for the Mariners yet again in 2017.