On Monday night when Miguel Olivo went down with a groin strain the Mariners blogosphere, here included, began to whir with speculation of what the Mariners roster would look like come Wednesday. Ultimately we found out that the team would call up Mike Carp, and that was probably the right move.
The other main option was Guillermo Quiroz, a journeyman catcher who has toiled in the minors for several seasons, and who would probably be the best defensive catcher on the roster. That’s not exactly like being the smartest guy at a MENSA gathering, but hey, whatever. Guillermo Quiroz has value to the Mariners in a category because he’s alright in that category and they are terrible in that category. Is catcher defense the end all be all to success? Probably not. But if you’ve watched the Mariners in the past couple of seasons you know that they’ve been bad and their catcher defense has been bad, and can connect the dots to assume that it isn’t good for the team. Screw MENSA.
Anyways, one of the major concerns among Mariners fans and local media members has become what happens if Jesus Montero and John Jaso are playing in the same lineup—which is logical considering they’re both among the team’s better hitters—and one of them has to be substituted for whatever reason (e.g. injury, late-game strategy). The Mariners could be faced with a scenario where they must give up their DH position and burn through pinch-hitters to avoid having the pitcher hit.
That could be a problem, sure. It’s not good to have pitchers hit. That’s why teams use the DH instead of batting their pitcher. They have the option. But how likely is that to happen?
One of the major roster problems created by having a full-time DH is that a roster spot that may otherwise be filled by a utility-role guy would be filled by a DH. Most teams carry two catchers, and most teams that have a full-time DH have two catchers, and a DH. So three guys fill the roles of DH and catcher on the team. One of the advantages the Mariners have here is that because their DH platoon is the same as their catcher platoon, they’re basically able to carry an extra bench player in place of a normally-soft-hitting backup catcher.
And that’s really the rub. In exchange for the ability to pinch hit or run for the their catchers late in some games—presuming they pinch hit at all considering the hitting ability that Jaso and Montero have—they’d lose the productivity Mike Carp could give them. That may mean that they are losing their best first baseman at this point.
Let’s say that Jaso or Montero go down with an injury and the Mariners are left with—GASP!—only one catcher on their roster. It’s a one-game problem. They can call Quiroz up at that point. They could sign a catcher at that point. Not a big deal. And if they ultimately do decide to bring Quiroz up, it may be Justin Smoak that goes down, so seeing if Carp can repeat his small-sample success and is presently the team’s best-hitting first baseman has some value also.
It’s very rare that a game goes long enough for the same player to be pinch-hit for twice, or for a team to replace one of its best hitters with another hitter. It’s even more rare that a team pinch hits early enough in a game that a replacement would receive more than one at-bat.
And coming into last night’s game the Mariners had only pinch hit 11 times all year.
And because Montero and Jaso can both play catcher (or so says someone more important than me) they have an extra bench spot. If Mike Carp has come up only to be the designated pinch-hitter for the rare American League double switch, and it means that the Mariners get to run a lineup out that has both Montero and Jaso in it most days (especially against right-handers) then hell, the Mariners are better today than they were two days ago.
What we are worried about are scenarios that are either unlikely, infrequent, or overvalued. And even if the sky falls and the Mariners need another catcher, Guillermo Quiroz is a phone call away.