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January 16, 2009 at 9:50 AM

What a stop-gap veteran catcher is worth

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Over the past few months, as discussions have grown over what the Mariners should or shouldn’t be paying for their catching position as they wait for youngsters Jeff Clement, Rob Johnson and Adam Moore to prove themselves, I’ve thrown the name Gregg Zaun around. For me, Zaun is the prototype of exactly what you’d want from a veteran catcher as you wait for a No. 1 pick like Clement to find his major league legs.
Zaun didn’t become a full-time major league catcher until 2004, so, like Jamie Burke, his age (37) isn’t truly indicative of the shelf life he has left. When the Orioles traded Ramon Hernandez to the Reds last month, giving them the need for a one or two-year stop-gap catcher until uber-prospect Matt Wieters was ready, some of you asked whether it was possible Kenji Johjima could be dealt to Baltimore.
“Not a chance,” I opined. Not when guys like Zaun were kicking around.
And today, you know why. Zaun was signed by the Orioles to a one-year, $1.5-million deal with a club option for $2 million and a $500,000 buyout. That means, at most, the club is on the hook to him for $3.5 million through 2010, or just $2 million for this one coming season.
That’s the going rate for a stop-gap veteran catcher. Zaun is a switch-hitter and while some teammates have felt he’s a bit of a self-promoter (not like he’s had a choice on that), he does take time to work with pitchers and mentor younger players. Oh yeah, he can also catch and blocks the plate with the best of them despite his smaller size. He’ll fit in nicely with the Orioles. Here’s what the Toronto equivalent of U.S.S. Mariner thinks. Zaun actually wanted to come to Seattle before Burke was signed a couple of years back. He told me last summer, while still playing for Toronto, that he’d like to come here in 2009 as well. But he realized at the time that the Johjima contract extension made that all but impossible.
But hey, now you know. If your team ever needs a veteran catcher for a year or two, don’t pay much more than the Orioles just did.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

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