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Mariners play long game, place good-hitting catcher on waivers for division rival to claim

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RIP, Mike Leake’s personal catcher

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Chris Herrmann is a Houston Astro now, and I am confused.

Here’s what Scott Servais said in late September about Herrmann, when asked if he foresaw the 30-year-old catcher with the club next season:

“I think so,” Servais said on if Herrmann has done enough to earn a role next year. “Offensively he’s got power and we’ve seen that and saw that last night. He does a pretty good job of working counts and he’ll find a walk every once in a while which you need to do when you’re not playing every day. He’s always got a pretty good idea of the strike zone. Certainly I’m expecting him to be in the mix when we come back here.”

But in that same article, Cotterill points out that Herrmann had been given very little playing time in comparison to fellow backup David Freitas down the stretch. Herrmann and Freitas ended the season with a similar number of plate appearances (86 for Herrmann vs. just over 100 for Freitas), although Herrmann was more productive in his time, earning .6 fWAR and hitting a memorable walk-off home run. Herrmann was also a personal favorite of staff writer and OBP fan Zach Gottschalk, who appreciated Herrmann’s ability to take a walk (11.5% BB rate) on a contact-focused team that didn’t work too many of them.

To add insult to injury, Herrmann was claimed by the Houston Astros, whose lone weakness is at the catching position. Veterans Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are both free agents next year. Max Stassi posted a 1.2 fWAR in 250 plate appearances, but the defense-first catcher was left off the playoff roster. I’d expect the Astros to upgrade the position more sharply than Herrmann, who is thrilled to be claimed by his hometown team, but in the meantime, the Mariners just took a hit at a position that’s thin across the organization.

The Mariners seem committed to Mike Zunino as the primary catcher, and there’s a possibility they too try to upgrade in the off-season at the backup position. There’s also a possibility they’re happy with Freitas, who struggled in his major league time but posted a wRC+ of 153 at Tacoma with much better K-BB ratio numbers than he showed in MLB. And while the Mariners are thin at catcher as an organization, there is prospect Joe DeCarlo, converted two seasons ago from the infield. DeCarlo should be assigned to Tacoma this year after a 114 wRC+ performance at Double-A Arkansas and could contend for a promotion if he shows well at Triple-A. For a recent conversion to catcher, DeCarlo has earned positive reviews behind the dish thanks to his strong, accurate former third baseman’s arm, and has shown good instincts in pitch-framing and blocking. DeCarlo is currently doing a second tour of the AFL, where he was a taxi squad player last year, and he’s been hot lately, with a trio of multi-hit games, including a triple and a game-tying two-RBI single. He’s slashing .310/.447/.414 and has more walks than strikeouts, in keeping with the excellent plate discipline he’s shown over his career.

However, going into spring with a catching core of an offensively stymied Mike Zunino, the relatively unproven at the MLB level David Freitas, and a prospect who hasn’t played above Double-A seems like an awfully thin group. I’m not foolish enough to believe I know better than the front office, who must be comfortable for whatever reason with letting Herrmann walk, but as it stands now, that’s awfully worrying.