The next twelve hours or so, at least as it concerns the Mariners, are going to be all about what the Mariners do with Ben Gamel and Ichiro. That ground is going to be pretty saturated, and I’ve already written a few things on the Mariners left field situation, so instead I want to pivot this morning to the next roster crunch coming down the line: Backup catcher.
At the beginning of the season, all conversations and projections pointed to Mike Marjama as the man slated to back up Mike Zunino. He is an incredibly easy and fun player to root for. His decision to open up publicly about his struggles with an eating disorder represent a still fledgling effort by athletes to fight back against dogmatic and hurtful concepts of masculinity, athleticism, toughness, and courage. More than anything he does on a baseball field, Marjama’s efforts to lead in this manner make him a winner, and a person worthy of our admiration.
The problem is, well, he’s not a great catcher. He can hit a bit. His wRC+ in his last three minor league stints in Tampa were 142, 120, and 127. But, and here’s where the constraints of my time and this series have to fall upon your grace, as I have no intention of making gifs or screenshots, his defense is leaving a lot to be desired. You can choose to believe or not believe me when I tell you I know a few people inside the game of baseball whose opinions I value, and each of them has, in turn, rated Marjama’s defense as varying degrees of “not good.”
Enter David Freitas. A waiver pickup last August from Atlanta, Freitas has a similar, if slightly inferior, offensive track record to Marjama. In the tiny sample size of 2018 Freitas’ bat has outperformed Marjama’s, but that should be given very little consideration. No, the real meat here is that Freitas, at least from those I’ve talked to and my own layman’s eye, is the better defensive catcher of the two, and not by a fractional amount. The framing, the pitch blocking, and overall, somewhat unmeasurable “command” of the dish all seem to favor Freitas.
Want more? Well sure. In his first start of the year James Paxton, very much the Mariners’ Ace, was caught by Mike Marjama. In every one of his subsequent three starts it has been David Freitas. That could be nothing, but typically a team’s best pitcher is the one who gets to choose his catcher, and James is definitely the Mariners’ best pitcher.
It’s probably a small gap, but taken as a whole, a gap does appear to exist. David Freitas and Mike Marjama are the same age, with similar minor league track records and offensive skillsets. The largest difference between the two is defense, where Freitas appears to hold the advantage. Marjama was the presumptive opening day backup, but their play on the field makes me comfortable recommending and hoping that it’s Freitas that remains in Seattle, whenever Mike Zunino makes his return. And may that be soon.