In a move that appears to sacrifice defense and bullpen depth in order to add a veteran backup catcher, the Seattle Mariners acquired Welington Castillo on Tuesday morning from the Chicago Cubs.
In return, the Mariners surrendered right-handed reliever Yoervis Medina, who served as a key element in their bullpen over the past two-plus seasons prior to his May 3 demotion to Triple-A Tacoma.
“We hate to give up Yoervis,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “He’s a guy you always think could become pretty good. But given the state of catching, we thought it was time to make a move to shore up that position.”
Zduriencik pointed to a large number of starting catchers on the disabled list as a reason to acquire Castillo, who spent the two previous seasons as the Cubs’ starter.
Castillo will be activated prior to Wednesday’s game against Baltimore. The Mariners cleared space for him by optioning catcher Jesus Sucre, a defensive specialist, to Tacoma after Tuesday’s 9-4 loss to the Orioles.
Manager Lloyd McClendon confirmed Castillo will serve as the backup to catcher Mike Zunino, who started 33 of the club’s first 39 games.
“His playing time will be predicated on Zunino’s performance,” McClendon said. “I mean, we’re not fooling anybody here, Mike Zunino is our everyday catcher.”
Castillo, 28, is batting just .163 this season in limited action but has a .252 average and a .320 on-base percentage over his six-year career. He also has a strong arm — he has thrown out 30 percent of base stealers in his career.
But Castillo also carries a reputation for poor pitch-calling and pitch-framing. Those deficiencies prompted the Cubs to acquire Miguel Montero in an offseason trade with Arizona and sign free agent David Ross.
“A lot of players have deficiencies in some areas,” Zduriencik countered. “You bring a player onboard because the skill set that he has — and in this case, the experience that he has — is an asset.”
The Mariners also appear to be adding payroll.
Castillo is making $2.1 million this year and will be eligible after the season for arbitration. He is also out of minor-league options and on track to become a free agent after the 2017 season.
In contrast, Medina, 26, is making $527,300 this season and can still be optioned to the minors through the end of this season.
Medina could be eligible after this season for arbitration, depending on time spent in the majors, but he isn’t likely to be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season.
“I don’t think we would have made this trade,” McClendon said, “if we didn’t think we had depth in our relievers, particularly right-handed relievers who we believe are not going to be set-up type of guys.”
The Mariners also made the move in hopes of boosting an attack that, entering Tuesday, had scored fewer runs than all but two of American League’s 15 clubs.
Zunino and Sucre, combined, are batting just .165 with a .221 on-base percentage and a .322 slugging percentage. Sucre has just one hit, a single, in 15 at-bats in his six games.
Zduriencik characterized Castillo as a player who has power and “some hittability,” while emphasizing the need for a veteran backup.
“It’s such a demanding position,” Zduriencik said, “that when you get a chance to add a veteran guy. … Our scouts liked him, our analytical people liked him, we thought it was a good fit.”
Medina served last season as the Mariners’ primary set-up reliever in going 5-3 with a 2.68 ERA in 66 games. That followed a rookie season in which he was 4-6 with a 2.91 ERA in 63 games.
But he often battled command issues and, after issuing seven walks this season in 12 innings over 12 games, Medina was optioned to Tacoma despite a 3.00 ERA.
Medina made four appearances for the Rainiers, allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings while allowing just one hit and one walk.
BACK IN BALTIMORE
Nelson Cruz has fond feelings for Baltimore after resurrecting his career a year ago when he led the majors with 40 homers in his only season with the Orioles.
“Good memories,” he said. “I had a great time, and I think we accomplished something special last year. So it’s nice to see my ex-teammates and come and see the fans.”
But it’s not just what happened last season. Consider also what Cruz has done against the Orioles throughout his 11-year career.
He went 2-for-3 with a three-run homer in Tuesday’s loss and now has 57 hits in 163 at-bats — a .350 average — in 41 career games against Baltimore. That includes 12 doubles, seven homers and 37 RBIs.
Brad Miller entered Tuesday’s series opener agains the Orioles as the American League Player of the Week after hitting homers in consecutive games (two on Saturday and one on Sunday) for the first time in his career.
The award amounted, at least in part, to validation of Miller’s ability to deal with the emotional roller-coaster of shifting roles this month from starting shortstop to super utilityman.
“You’re going to be faced with challenges and things that pop up,” he agreed. “It’s a long year. There’s a lot that’s out of your control. The ability to separate (those issues) from what you do on the field is a skill you’re going to need throughout your career.
“I don’t think I did a very good job at the beginning. To be able to learn from that, and push everything (else) to the side and just play, is definitely something I’m proud of.”
BACK AT SHORTSTOP?
Don’t be surprised if Miller reclaims his job at shortstop if center fielder Austin Jackson, as expected, returns later this week from the disabled list.
The Mariners must make a corresponding space-clearing roster move for Jackson and one option under consideration is optioning shortstop Chris Taylor back to Tacoma.
Taylor has just four hits in 34 at-bats over 10 games since his May 4 recall from the Rainiers.
It might not be a coincidence that Double-A Jackson outfielder Jabari Blash had his first two-walk game of the season Monday in an 11-0 romp at Tennessee (Cubs).
Blash, 25, was picked as the Southern League Player of the Week earlier in the day for the period of May 11-17. He was 10 for 23 (.435) over six games in that span with two homers and nine RBIs.
The Mariners selected Blash in the eighth round of the 2010 draft. He opened this season at Triple-A Tacoma but was batting just .167 in 11 games when reassigned to Jackson.
Blash is batting .347 in 13 games for the Generals with four homers and 16 RBIs.
The Mariners lead the majors with five individual multiple-homer games. Cruz has three of them. Zunino and Miller each have one. … Robinson Cano entered the series with a .361 average and a .995 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 79 career games at Camden Yards. Those are his career-best totals in any park where he has played at least 20 games.
The Mariners and Orioles continue their three-game series at 4:05 p.m. (PDT) Wednesday at Camden Yards. Lefty Roenis Elias (0-1, 3.24 ERA) will face Baltimore lefty Wei-Yin Chen (1-2, 2.53).