A splashy move? Absolutely not. A shrewd, floor-raising move? Probably!
The offseason doesn’t officially kick off for another couple of weeks, but that hasn’t stopped us from wishcasting and discoursing over what moves the Mariners will make in the winter months. If there’s one thing I think the whole fanbase can agree on, it’s that there hasn’t been this kind of opportunity to make major moves at the big league level in years, and any hint of penny-pinching is unacceptable. Names like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Robbie Ray, and Starling Marte all figure to be bandied about, with a vigor unlike the past pipe dreams of luring a big free agent to Seattle. After coming off a surprise 90-win season with approval from ownership to significantly add in payroll, nothing should be off the table.
Of course, one big swing is exciting, but won’t plug every hole at once, and one spot that could potentially be upgraded is the catching corps. In 2021, the quartet of Tom Murphy, Cal Raleigh, Luis Torrens, and José Godoy combined a slash line of just .190/.266/.329, and the position was quietly an offensive black hole for much of the year – remember, most of Torrens’s hitting came after he was moved off catching post-recall, and I doubt he gets much, if any play there going forward. Murphy mashed lefties and bumped up his walk rate considerably all season, but didn’t quite produce enough to be reliably counted on as a starter, and could be a non-tender candidate.
Godoy made brief headlines by becoming the 20,000th Major League player for a little while, but after collecting just 40 plate appearances and putting up pretty lackluster numbers, it’s likely he could be a roster casualty later in the winter. After being called up right before the All-Star break, Raleigh silenced many doubts about his defense, but struggled heavily at the plate throughout the second half; a decent final two weeks pushed his big league wRC+ to just 47. Clearly, there’s room for upgrading here, regardless of how you feel about Cal’s future.
The problem is, what’s a good path to take? Willson Contreras could be available if the Cubs continue their teardown, but given that he has two years of team control left and would instantly become the best catcher available, the odds of landing him feel slim. The free agent pool isn’t very inspiring for any long-term fixes, either – Manny Piña, Robinson Chirinos, or Kurt Suzuki, anyone? Didn’t think so. One-time Orioles top prospect Chance Sisco is the only name on MLB Trade Rumors’s list under 30, but after he put up a 24 wRC+ in 2021, anything other than a non-roster invitee deal would be a headscratching signing.
As far as short-term stopgaps, though, there’s a name on that free agent list that jumps out. A durable catcher who’s started more than half of his team’s games since 2017? Check. A guy who’s played across ten seasons for four teams, cementing himself as a #VeteranPresence? Mmhm. A bat that hangs around a 90 wRC+ with not-too-stark platoon splits? You got it. A solid defender with a nice arm and the ability to execute plays at the plate? He’s got it in spades. As a nice bonus, too, his last name sounds exactly the same as a longtime rallying cry for Mariners fans.
Yup, Yan Gomes would be a perfect fit in 2022.
I realize that this move might not be one that a lot of folks could draw a lot of excitement from, and certainly lacks in flair compared to say, backing up the truck for Carlos Correa. In fact, one of Jerry Dipoto’s very first moves in Seattle was signing Chris Iannetta to a one-year deal for a similar stopgap role, which now that I write it out in the open, doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence. There are a few significant differences, though – for starters, Iannetta was coming off of a down season the year the M’s signed him, while Gomes turned in a year right around his career norms. Right out of the gate, there’s an advantage.
Iannetta also immediately took the reins as the traditional starting catcher while Mike Zunino rebuilt himself in Tacoma after a truly miserable 2015. Gomes, on the other hand, could occupy a few roles. The Mariners could tender a contract to Murphy, start Raleigh with the Rainiers, and let him and Gomes hold down the catcher spot while Cal finds his footing in Tacoma. This would be the safe approach, and offers a decent floor, but the problem here is that Murphy and Gomes are pretty similar offensive players – lefty mashers with decent pop, while neither are serious on-base threats. Gomes will probably leg out a few more hits while Murphy will make up for the loss in contact with some more walk, but if either of them go through a power outage, it could be a rough time for Seattle catchers once again. With the offensive environment and talent gap in Triple-A more stark than ever, too, it’s possible that the club might want Raleigh to take his lumps in the big league level.
In that case, should Gomes be brought aboard, Murphy would likely be the odd man out, and Seattle would go into 2022 with a tandem of Gomes and Raleigh behind the plate. It might seem counter-intuitive to have Cal in a backup role instead of getting regular time in Triple-A, but nothing about Gomes’s presence should preclude him from grabbing more starts if he comes out of the gates well – in fact, that would be a wonderful problem for Seattle to have. Under this configuration, I’d imagine the job share come Opening Day would be around 65/35 in Gomes’s favor, with him starting most games against lefties while filling in against righties. Should Raleigh take some steps forward with the bat, Gomes could easily slide into a more traditional backup role and maximize his production, but his floor is high enough that he can start without the catcher spot being a near-certain out.
Let’s be very clear: an off-season where signing Yan Gomes is a highlight would be an unequivocal failure. Now is the time to take big swings at premier free agents and take on salary in potential trades rather than limiting oneself to bargain bin hunting. Still, though, good teams have deep benches, and Gomes would likely bring short-term production, take some pressure off of Cal Raleigh, and bring some stability to a position that struggled to produce offensively all 2021. Coming off of a two-year, $10 million deal, a one-year contract in the $8 million range could be enough to get it done. It isn’t even close to an appetizing main course of the offseason, but as a little amuse-bouche? You can do a hell of a lot worse.