Seattle Mariners rumors about Mike Zunino and the catcher position are a constant topic of conversation among fans. The Mariners originally drafted Zunino to be the "catcher-of-the-future" for the franchise, but he has struggled to put it all together at the plate. While Zunino continues to be above-average on defense and at framing pitches, the mounting strikeouts have led many Mariners fans to denounce him on social media. So is there an option for the Mariners to take in regard to Zunino? Should the franchise just wait for him to turn it around?
On Wednesday night (May 4), the Seattle Mariners beat up on the Los Angeles Angels, scoring 11 runs on 16 hits in a very one-sided game. The 11-3 victory was an impressive one, but Mike Zunino didn't account for any of the Mariners' offense. Zunino finished the game 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. It lowered his batting average on the season to just 0.167, making it his lowest since joining the team. Getting a batting average that low and an OPS of just 0.486 from a primary position player isn't what the team was hoping he would do this season.
As for the Seattle Mariners rumors about possibly replacing him, the options within the organization are very limited. Backup catcher Carlos Ruiz isn't winning over many fans, as he has posted a 0.136 batting average over 11 games, which is even worse than what Zunino is doing. Ruiz is just 3-for-22 at the plate with eight strikeouts, compared to the 12-for-72 and 30 strikeouts that Zunino is sporting. The power hasn't shown up for Zunino either, as he has no home runs and just two RBIs through is first 24 games this year.
The starting catcher for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers is 33-year-old Tuffy Gosewisch. He has a 0.240 batting average through 17 games, suggesting that he wouldn't be a very good replacement for Mike Zunino or Carlos Ruiz. It also underscores how bad things could get if the Mariners were to suffer an injury to either of their two primary catchers.
As for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, one of the primary catchers down there is 25-year-old Marcus Littlewood. He has gone 16-for-46 over his first 12 games this season, posting a 0.348 batting average to go with one home run and seven RBIs. Littlewood spent a bit of time with Tacoma last year, but only had a 0.045 batting average (1-for-22) during his time in the PCL. That was after posting a 0.307 batting average at Double-A for a chunk of the season. Littlewood may soon see another promotion, but he isn't ready for Major League pitching.
On the list of the top 30 Seattle Mariners' prospects for 2017, there are players like outfielder Kyle Lewis, pitcher Andrew Moore, and outfielder Tyler O'Neill. When it comes to the catcher position, only one player makes the list, and that is Tyler Marlette at No. 25 overall. Marlette is splitting time with Littlewood down in Arkansas, posting a 0.254 batting average over his first 63 at-bats of the season. Marlette has no home runs and 10 RBIs, with an on-base percentage of just 0.299 so far. Below is how Marlette is currently graded in a report by MLB.com.
"Despite his offensive struggles, Marlette has a sound approach and handles the bat well, showing good bat speed and power potential from the right side of the plate. His defense continues to be a work in progress. While his framing and overall receiving skills require further refinement, there's been no talk of moving him from behind the plate. Marlette fits the profile of a backup who can help a team offensively, with the upside of a bat-first regular if he can improve behind the plate."
With Carlos Ruiz unable to take over as a full-time option due to his age, Tuffy Gosewisch just holding down the job at Tacoma, and Tyler Marlette still unprepared to handle a Major League staff, it shifts the Seattle Mariners rumors into a pursuit on the open market. This is where the Mariners could possibly pursue a trade with another team or seek out an improvement in free agency during the next MLB offseason. At the top of that list could be veterans playing for struggling teams this year.
Russell Martin of the Toronto Blue Jays, Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals, and J.T. Realmuto are three catchers playing for teams that appear destined for bad records this season. Realmuto could be the most interesting option, as he has a 0.315 batting average this season and a career mark of 0.284 so far. He would be an expensive acquisition, though, as the Marlins aren't going to just give him away. There has also been no indication that he is available, but the ownership down in Miami has always been unpredictable.
It might be easy to acquire Martin from the Blue Jays, but he comes with a really expensive contract that pays him $20 million for each of the next three MLB seasons. For a 34-year-old catcher, that might be a bad contract for any team to take on. Four-time All-Star catcher Salvador Perez is also under a long-term deal, but it is a team-friendly one that would make him expensive to acquire from the Royals. In that case, the Mariners might have to overpay to get him, possibly requiring a sacrifice like Kyle Lewis to get a deal done.
2018 free agent catchers who could become available due to their teams falling out of contention are Jonathan Lucroy of the Texas Rangers, Miguel Montero of the Chicago Cubs, and Alex Avila of the Detroit Tigers. Lucroy would be expensive and Montero is likely on a playoff team, leaving Avila and his 0.391 average this season as a palatable option. Lucroy in free agency might be a good target for the Mariners as well, especially if the team doesn't figure out the position during the 2017 MLB season.
With no easy fixes at the catcher position, Mike Zunino still has a pretty safe job. Whether it takes Edgar Martinez helping him with his swing or he simply has an epiphany at the plate, fans need to see some improvement from him. The at-bats are there for Zunino to work on his batting and get things turned around, so it's just a matter of making it happen. Until that point, though, the Seattle Mariners rumors about finding a replacement at catcher will continue, even if there aren't many discernable options for a replacement.
[Featured Image by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images]