Up until this morning, Jesus Montero was third on the Mariners’ catcher depth chart. that would be the Jesus Montero, the one who famously can’t catch (or hit) a lick and who was very publicly moved off of the position due to utter incompetence. Yet there he was, right behind two guys with a combined 222 major league plate appearances. Until this morning, that was the state of the Mariners catcher depth: 222 major league plate appearances, backed up by Jesus Freakin’ Montero. On a team that really, really wants to make some noise in 2014.
This morning the Mariners made a move that changed everything, albeit in the smallest of ways. See, the Mariners weren’t content to go into 2014 with only two-ish catchers on the roster. Last year, one recalls, the Mariners used seven different catchers over the point of the season. Of those seven, Kelly Shoppach led the way with 0.4 WAR before his deserving release. Second on the team in wins was Humberto Quintero, with 0.3. Today, the Mariners re-signed Quintero to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league spring training. And in doing so, they took the first step towards attempting to build a somewhat-competent safety net in the likely event that Mike Zunino fails to light the baseball world on fire.
As with most guys who ink a minor league pact, Quintero is predictably underwhelming. He made his major league debut with San Diego in 2003, and since then has amassed only 1,421 plate appearances. He caught 88 games for Houston in 2010, by far a career high. He’s always been a part-time player, and for good reason. Over those 1,421 plate appearances, Quintero has slashed .234/.267/.327, good for a 57 wRC+. That’s a lower OBP than Miguel Olivo, and a worse overall offensive contribution than Brendan Ryan, or really, just about anyone. His offense is completely unacceptable, which is why in the past eleven years the only team to give him over 200 plate appearances were Astros clubs that lost 86 and 106 games.
Since Quintero is a backup catcher, he’s not expected to contribute much. But a no-bat backup is utterly useless and unemployable without competent defense, which is something Quintero has to offer. He’s posted positive defensive value in each of his eleven seasons. He carries with him a reputation as an excellent backstop, which is backed up by his advanced defensive statistics. Furthermore, recent research on pitch-framing and pitch-blocking ranks Quintero extremely highly. His offensive deficiencies are pretty astonishing, but the extent to which he can play behind the plate is underrated, at the very least. As far as backup catchers go, Quintero is a great bet. He’s a backup because he can’t hit, but if he could hit, he’d be a superstar. His defense is legitimately awesome.
Given that the Mariners project as a terrible defensive team in 2014, this is an extremely welcome move. Utility and backup types are a great place to add some sly defensive value, and it’s nice to see the M’s hit on this move after whiffing on the Willie Bloomquist signing. Defense matters, a lot, and perhaps moreso at catcher than anywhere else. Given Mike Zunino’s reputation and expected development, there’s now a very real chance that the 2014 Mariners will have a good defensive starter with a great defensive backup. Jesus Sucre is also good at defense, for what it’s worth, but despite his forty-man spot he now should be considered third string behind Zunino and Quintero. This may just be a minor league signing, but as far as those go, it’s an important one.