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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 23, 2013 at 9:47 AM

Jesus Montero demoted to Class AAA Tacoma

UPDATE: The Mariners have made it official, announcing that Jesus Montero has been optioned to Tacoma. However, the corresponding move won’t be announced until tomorrow. We know Jesus Sucre is coming up, but the unanswered question is how the Mariners will clear space on the 40-man roster for Sucre.

The press release also notes that Montero has 72 hours to report to Tacoma. The Rainiers have a home game tonight before heading out on the road to Reno, where they play tomorrow night.

It was inevitable, and now it’s happening: As reported by Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News-Tribune, Jesus Montero is headed to Tacoma, and Jesus Sucre is coming up. It was a move the Mariners had to make, as I wrote about two nights ago. Sucre had three hits last night in Tacoma’s win (as you’ll see in today’s Mariners’ minor-league report) to raise his average to .302 (16-for-53).

But this isn’t about Jesus Sucre, who was Mike Zunino’s backup in Tacoma and will be Kelly Shoppach‘s backup in Seattle — and a much better defensive option than Montero was. It’s about figuring out what Montero’s future is with the Mariners, and whether any of it will take place with a mask and shin guards on. If the answer is no — and a lot of baseball people have, and continue to, say that should be the conclusion — a lot of time and energy has been expended in a fruitless pursuit. When we asked Eric Wedge in Pittsburgh why the  Mariners were being so persistent in working with Montero on his defensive skills when everyone knew Zunino was the catcher of the future, with the very talented John Hicks lined up behind him in Double-A (though currently on the DL with a groin injury), here’s what the manager said:

“Because I believe in the test of time. I believe you give it every opportunity. Like I’ve always said, you’d rather be a day late than a day early. Because you can’t change the day early. You can’t replay that. That’s just the lesson in discipline. That’s where the press, or the fans, 0r sometimes people even internally, have to understand. Because that’s my job as a manager, to play that out. That’s the discipline and the strength I have to have. So when we make a decision…I’m a big believer in conviction. When you do it, you’d better be damn sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and you’re doing it at the right time.”

We’ll find out soon enough what the Mariners’ new plan is for Montero, and whether the conviction to make Montero a catcher has died out. But regardless, the biggest thing they need for him is to get his offense squared away. That was always going to be Montero’s meal ticket, and the reason the Mariners gave up an All-Star pitcher to get him. I’ve read several tweets today to the effect that this move today proves the trade was a bust for both teams, the Yankees and Mariners. It’s way too soon to come to that conclusion. For one thing, Michael Pineda may come back from his shoulder surgery and be a frontline pitcher again — not a guarantee, obviously, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, given the reports of his velocity in rehab. And Montero still has a chance to develop into the power hitter the Mariners expected. If he can hit 30 homers a year as a DH/part-time first baseman with the ability to be an emergency catcher, that would still make him a pretty valuable commodity. Maybe removing the catching responsibilities from him will free him up to regain his stroke. That process should correctly begin in Tacoma, where Zunino needs to get the bulk of the time behind the plate. Divish says Brandon Bantz is coming up from Jackson to back up Zunino, an indication that Montero won’t be doing much catching.

The fact is, both Shoppach and Sucre are just keeping the job warm for Zunino, who I believe will be up here at some point this season. No rush, especially with him hitting just .220 now, and basically one year out of college and already in Triple-A. Don’t expect anything to happen until at least mid-June, when the Super 2 date passes by, and maybe not for awhile after that.

In the meantime, these next two days should be quite eventful. I doubt this will be the last transaction for the Mariners.

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