Analysis: M’s sign Iannetta

 The busy offseason continues for Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto with Monday’s signing of catcher Chris Iannetta. Reportedly, the deal is for one year guaranteed at $4.25 million, plus incentives, and includes an option for 2017. It’s unclear what the parameters of the option is.

Ianetta, 33 in April, struggled at the plate this past season, posting a .188/.293/.335 triple-slash in 92 games after a three-season run of .238/.357/.386 in Anaheim.

Considering the absolute dearth of available catching in Major League Baseball right now, this signing is sensible, without significant risk. Risk that might otherwise prevent the club from making additional moves at the position this winter, which is highly likely, or altering their course during the season if Iannetta gets hurt or continues to struggle.

Iannetta is a solid defender who is generally thought to be among the top 10 or so pitch framers in the game. He’s an average blocker despite a somewhat-advanced age and is adept at controlling the running game with above-average arm strength and accuracy.

He was a three-fWAR player in 2014, a two-fWAR player in 2013 and dropped to 0.5 a year ago. Like with Leonys Martin, the Mariners are buying low on Iannetta, in hopes he has a bounce-back season, or at least something in between his ’15 output and the previous few years.

Relative to the market — both free agent and trade — this is a terrific start for Seattle in their trek to make sure Mike Zunino isn’t the guy in 2016, and perhaps not even partially the answer being relied upon, without extending their resources to great lengths.

As for Iannetta offensively, betting on his bat spiking back some is a worthy wager for $4.25 million. Even a repeat of 2015 for Ianetta  — the half-fWAR version — is 2.4 fWAR better than the Mariners catchers provided last season. It’s more than reasonable to expect at least a 20-point spring based on a significant drop in batting average on balls in play — .225 in ’15, down from .329, .284 and .288 the prior three seasons. A little of that can be attributed to Iannetta being nearly 33 years old now, but not all of it, and getting back to the .270 range is far from wishful thinking.

He’s got power, though not Zunino-like pop, but he will work counts and draw walks, as suggested by a career 14.1 percent walk rate, including 12.9 a year ago.

Remaining free-agent catchers include Alex Avila, Jeff Mathis, Dioner Navarro, Brayan Pena and Geovany Soto — none of which are traditional No.1 catchers. Ideally, Seattle adds one of these to share time with Iannetta, or a similar player via trade, and Zunino can continue to develop and not concern himself with everyday work at the big-league level — at least for now.

To make room for Iannetta, the Mariners designated for assignment John Hicks, who spent last season in Triple-A Tacoma before a late-season cup of coffee in Seattle. There’s a chance he clears waivers and can be sent back to Tacoma, but there are clubs who like Hicks enough to believe he can be an emergency Triple-A call-up type, so the former Virginia backstop may be done in Seattle.

The Mariners payroll, which has been updated right here, including arbitration projections, still is in great shape. Now with eight locked-in guaranteed contracts — two of those with incentives attached — are eating up a total of $92.107 million. When the offseason began, five players made up $78.857 million.

 

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

11 Comments

  1. To respond to your snark comment. Jerry, if you and I discuss what we think Jerry Dipoto’s next move will be, does that make it a rumor? And further, if Billy Beane and Theo Epstein discuss what they think Jerry Dipoto will do, does that constitute a rumor? Whether two bloggers, or two GMs, there is a difference between “speculation” and a “rumor”. It is generally accepted that a rumor comes from a source with some form of knowledge on the subject with at least a little bit of general confirmation.
    In this case, it was speculation based on some pretty obvious likelihoods.

  2. Yeah. Definitely not a rumor.

  3. Whatever, Jerry. It wasn’t a rumor. The article says exactly what it was.

  4. Edman,

    Yeah, because GMs often explicitly state that they are shopping specific players.

  5. Technically, all Jerry Cransick said was that other executives expect Dipoto to trade Trumbo, not the Dipoto himself ever hinted at trading him. That takes if from rumor, to speculation.

  6. Its strange. Dipoto hasn’t made a trade in 18 days. I wonder if he’s OK.

  7. That is the definition of the term ‘rumor.’

  8. As far as I can tell, there are NO rumors about trading Trumbo. Just more of the lame “Jerry traded him one” BS. Jerry didn’t take Trumbo because he didn’t want him, he traded him because the Diamondbacks offered a big return.

  9. Just saw this from Jerry Cransick: apparently there are rumors starting to circulate about Trumbo. It’s nothing imminent, and seems to be coming from outside the organization. But interesting nonetheless:

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/14212087/mlb-hot-stove-daily-tuesday-trade-free-agency-buzz

    If the M’s do move Trumbo, they’ll have to have some plan that involves players not currently in the organization. I don’t think you’d want to entrust that position to Montero. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this. I wonder what Trumbo might bring back, and if Dipoto would be able to upgrade the position. I don’t see them going after someone like Chris Davis (please no!), but someone like Steve Pearce would make sense. Or maybe look into trading for someone like Yonder Alonso or Carlos Santana. Trumbo doesn’t seem like a Dipoto type of player, so I think this bears watching.

  10. Good analysis. I really like this move. Its not huge, but its an absolute no brainer. He’s an upgrade even in the worse case scenario, and an above average starter if he gets back to his 2013-14 production. More importantly, it gives the M’s a bit of flexibility to deal with the Zunino situation as his play dictates, instead of boxing themselves into a corner like the last two years.

    I know that its still November, but I really like what Dipoto has done. And I think we can expect to see more activity.

  11. Steve Baron survives for another round.

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