The Seattle Mariners have agreed to sign veteran catcher Ronny Paulino to a one year contract worth $1 million plus incentives, according to reports out of Mexico (1, 2), pending physical.
Paulino can be viewed as a backup catcher as opposed to a part-time catcher (if that makes sense). The 31 year old checked into 20 games last season playing behind Matt Weiters and Taylor Teagarden in Baltimore, hitting about as well as you'd expect from someone below Taylor Teagarden on the depth chart-- .254/.266/.302.
Based on his track record, it's doubtful that Paulino will make much of an impression with his bat, glove, or clubhouse presence. He's simply the backup catcher. He is not the new John Jaso. He is the new Josh Bard, Jaime Burke, Rene Rivera.
Barring another move to bolster the big league catching depth, we can take this to mean that Jesus Montero is going to be the everyday catcher until Mike Zunino says otherwise. This isn't necessarily a new development considering that Mariners' "wealth" of DH-types and dearth of catching depth, but Paulino's signing could be viewed as confirmation of GM Jack Zduriencik's plan. Montero is catching. Furthermore, manager Eric Wedge will have to go full-crazy to break from the plan.
Why bother having Montero catch if Zunino is going to send him to DH or first base?
Necessity - There isn't anyone else. The Mariners may have tried for someone better, but it's not easy to find a backstop who is capable and deserving of playing every day but also easily expendable upon Zunino's promotion. Jaso wasn't that guy either.
Contingency - Zduriencik has seen Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak fall well short of expectations so he's not about to bank on Zunino. The Mariners have some minor league catching depth behind Zunino but Montero could still be considered the best Plan B. This also keeps Montero's options open for his own sake; the ability to catch could allow the Mariners to get something out of him on the field should his bat fail to develop enough to justify a regular DH assignment.
Trade Value - Are the Mariners the only team in baseball that believes in Montero's catching ability? Maybe. But if the Mariners believe there is anyone else out there who might accept Montero as a catcher, they might as well preserve that value. A Montero trade scenario may seem unlikely now, but you never know. Zduriencik knows firsthand that free agents could be tough to attract, so collecting and creating as many trade assets as possible should be a goal.
While Paulino isn't going to excite, it's worth noting that Paulino wasn't a thoughtless addition. Montero's best chance to get a break from catching and take a half-day off at DH will come against lefties when Raul Ibanez hits the bench. Paulino owns a .325/.379/.465 batting line against lefties over 664 career plate appearances. Paulino won't be a platoon guy -- Montero's best opportunity for a full-day's rest will come against right-handers, after all -- but it's nice to know that Montero's offense won't always be canceled out when he serves as the designated hitter.
Related: Zunino's Timeline
Hat tip: Larry Stone, Lookout Landing