The Zunino Call Up: The Right Move
The reaction to Mike Zunino’s call to the majors from AAA Tacoma varied from lukewarm to incredilous in the Mariner blogosphere. Some even labeled it proof of a dysfunctional management in Seattle. Yet the reality is that Mike Zunino is the best player available to fill a position of need. He isn’t being brought up to change the fortunes of a sub .500 team. He isn’t being called up to save Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik’s jobs. He is being called up because he provides the best chance for the Mariners to win baseball games. We discussed this on the podcast last night, but I wanted to explain a bit more here.
Clearly Zduriencik didn’t envision a season in which he would be sitting here in mid-June with Dustin Ackley in AAA, Justin Smoak on the DL and Jesus Montero DL’d, in AAA and facing potential suspension due to PEDs. This would be more like the worst case scenario or nightmare for Jack Z coming into 2013. It wasn’t a plan to have Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino up yet. And to say that the Mariners should have built depth at catcher or other spots with potential major league veterans is also absurd. Remember Robert Andino? So when Jesus Sucre (who provided that type of insurance) got hurt, Zunino became the best option to help the team win games. Dave Cameron at U.S.S. Mariner stated that recently DFA’d John Baker of the Padres presents a better option for the M’s. How is that even possible? Baker hasn’t hit a home run since 2009, has a strike out rate of 26.1%, and is an average catcher defensively. While we must temper our expectations of Zunino based upon his BB/K ratios and low batting average, what would be the purpose of treading water with Baker?There seems to be this Ackley/Montero-based fear of bringing prospects up before they are “ready” with “ready” being defined by media and bloggers only. While there is some legitimacy to this fear based on past results, why do all prospects get treated the same? Why does Ackley’s lack of success (when he was clearly ready at the time as evidence by his .273 average and 2.9 WAR in MLB his rookie year) mean Zunino will now fail? There is mounting evidence and more and more research that success in schools and other avenues of life is based upon the ability to overcome adversity and in building character rather than intelligence or talent. Why would baseball be any different? Dustin Ackley might be doing this right now as he is raking in AAA Tacoma by hitting over .400. But what if he just doesn’t end up being good? Does this mean the Mariners should coddle all their prospects? Kyle Seager didn’t need the coddling and he is the best overall hitter on the team. If Zunino is going to be a successful professional, he can learn from some failures and improve. He doesn’t need to get ridiculously good in AAA to become a better player. And if he can’t take the “failures” at the major league level, he will probably never be a stud anyway. JJ Keller at Sodo Mojo says: “You quite clearly rush a guy up to help for a few weeks, while harming him in the process. You take him away from the comfort of the minors, where things can be worked on first and foremost, against weak pitching, and throw him into the fire without the proper safety equipment, if you will.” The notion that Zunino can’t learn to be better the major league level is absurd to me. Who do you know in life that is really good at what they do that doesn’t respond to adversity? Zunino can succeed and fail in front of big crowds and still be ok. What if he goes back down? Won’t he have learned more from seeing and facing Major League pitching rather than the various talent levels of AAA pitchers?
And yes, Zunino is an upgrade despite the shaky peripheral numbers that every blogger cites as their Biblical verses of the day. Jesus Montero was batting .208 with three homers and nine RBI while posting a BB rate of 7.3% and a K rate of 19.1%. Kelly Shoppach is hitting .196 with the same number of homers and RBI, but surprisingly a worse K rate (36%). Jesus Sucre hit .192 in eight games. Are expectations so low for Zunino that he can’t be an improvement over those numbers? The reality is that Zunino can contribute now more than the other options. The Mariners wish it wasn’t the case and it certainly wasn’t the plan, but it is the cold hard truth.