The Mariners made a roster move while I was standing Oakland Airport Rental Car Center – also known as the third circle of Hades.
Catcher Kelly Shoppach was designated for assignment, and veteran free agent Henry Blanco was signed to a contract and will be here in Oakland tonight wearing number 33.
“We had interest in Henry this off season,”GM Jack Zduriencik said in a press release. “And recent circumstances developed allowing us to acquire Henry. We are pleased to be able to add him to our 25 man roster and look forward to his contributions.”
Before you go crazy about switching out a veteran back-up catcher, for a more veteran back-up catcher, let’s not over-romanticize Shoppach’s contributions.
He was a solid catcher, who filled in nicely when Jesus Montero tanked. After hitting well early, Shoppach’s numbers regressed as expected.
I’m guessing you will hear the word “mentor” used a lot to describe Blanco’s role on the team. With young catchers Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre on the team, Blanco will provide some of that guidance. The Mariners had originally planned to sign Blanco in the offseason, but he signed with the Blue Jays instead.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “We stopped the conversation for some reason. But obviously it was meant for me to be here. That’s the most important thing is now is I’m here. I’m willing to do anything to help this team.”
That includes playing sparingly and being a shoulder for Zunino to lean on.
“You have to understand your role I’m going to play a big role on the bench and that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.
What will he do for Zunino?
“Make him comfortable – he belongs here. Help him work with his pitching staff. Whatever he needs, I will be here for him,” Blanco said.
To be fair to Shoppach, he wasn’t signed as a mentor. He was signed as a back-up to Montero. There was an expectation of playing time. He wasn’t signed to be a caddy or a teacher to Zunino. And personally, I don’t know that he’d be good at that role.
Blanco is a little different.
At 41, he is a veteran of 16 Major League seasons with Los Angeles (NL, 1997), Colorado (1999), Milwaukee (2000-2001), Atlanta (2002-2003), Minnesota (2004), Chicago (NL, 2005-2008), San Diego (2009), New York (NL, 2010), Arizona (2011-2012) and Toronto (2013). He has a well-earned reputation as a strong defensive catcher, including catching over 40% of baserunners attempting to steal against him in his career (240 catchers-caught stealing in 590 opportunities, a 40.7% success rate).
He was released by the Blue Jays on June 10. He appeared in 15 games with the Blue Jays this season, catching in 13 games, including 11 consecutive starts by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.