Here is today’s Mariners’ minor-league report.
As Geoff has posted, the Mariners decided to bypass Mike Zunino and call up a previously obscure catcher named Brandon Bantz from Tacoma to fill in for what they hope is just a few days while Jesus Sucre heals from his hand injury.
Bantz was a 30th rounder in 2009 and thus becomes the fourth player from that draft to make the major leagues, following Dustin Ackley (No. 2 overall), Nick Franklin (No. 27) and Kyle Seager (No. 82). Bantz, who has been backing up Zunino in Tacoma, was the 893rd player chosen that year. Honestly, if you had told me in spring training that Bantz would spend time on the major-league season during the 2013 season, I wouldn’t have believed it. But he was in the right place at the right time, and kudos to him — even if he’s here for three days and never makes it back, he can always say he was a major leaguer.
Regarding Zunino, I’m getting the sense that people may be confused about what the ramifications would have been had Zunino been called up. First of all, it would have had little affect on his free-agent clock. To become a free agent, you need to play six full years. So even if Zunino came up and was here every day the rest of the year, he would still need six more full years, beginning in 2014, to reach free agency. In other words, they are already free and clear for this season regarding Zunino’s free agent clock. They would have had to put him on the 40-man roster for a callup, and thus use up an option to send him back down to the minors, ut if he’s as good as the Mariners hope, that won’t be a big factor down the road. They hope that when he’s here, he’s here to stay.
The potential impact would be on arbitration. To become eligible for arbitration, you need to play three full seasons. However, a percentage of players with service time between two and three years get to go to arbitration as “Super Two” players. The cutoff point differs from year to year, but it’s usually mid-June. That’s why so many star prospects come up at the end of June. So if Zunino came up now and didn’t go down, he might indeed have become a Super 2 arbitration guy. But all that means is the Mariners would have to pay him more money in 2016. It would not affect one bit how long he’s under club control. And if he stayed here for a brief amount time, as seems to be the plan for Bantz, and then went back down, the Mariners could easily make some adjustments in a possible recall date later in the season in order to keep him from Super 2 status.
So my takeaway is that the decision to not call up Zunino right now had little to do with either free agency or Super 2 arbitration, but was rather a player development call.