Dipoto signs free agent Iannetta
New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto reached back into his former Angels team to make his first new free-agent acquisition, signing veteran catcher Chris Iannetta to a one-year Major League contract on Monday.
John Hicks, a 26-year-old catcher who hit .063 in 32 at-bats for Seattle last season, was designated for assignment to open a spot on the 40-man roster.
Iannetta, 32, spent the last four seasons with the Angels after being acquired by Dipoto in a trade with the Rockies in 2011 for pitcher Tyler Chatwood. He gives Seattle an experienced catcher to go along with Mike Zunino, a well-regarded 24-year-old who has struggled to hit at the Major League level and finished last season with Triple-A Tacoma.
“This move improves our depth at a critical position,” said Dipoto. “Chris provides us with a solid veteran presence behind the plate, as well as an experienced Major League hitter with strong on-base skills who will lengthen our lineup.”
Iannetta is coming off a rough 2015 season himself, having batted .188 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 92 games after getting off to a slow start with a .093 average in April. But he carries a career line of .231/.351/.405 in 10 seasons in the Majors with the Rockies and Angels and hit .252/.373/392 in 108 games in 2014.
Iannetta earned $5.5 million last season in the final year of a three-year, $15.5 million contract and was credited with helping mentor Angels rookie Carlos Perez, who eventually replaced him as the starting catcher in the second half.
Iannetta’s .351 on-base percentage since the start of 2006 is tied for the third-best among catchers with a minuimum of 3,000 plate appearances behind San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.375), Toronto’s Russell Martin (.352) and tied with Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz (.351). Among catchers with a minumum of 800 games since 2006, he has the top fielding percentage in the Majors at .995.
Adding an established catcher was one of Dipoto’s primary targets this offseason. Zunino, the third overall pick in the 2012 Draft, is a strong defender and handles pitchers well, but hit just .174 with 11 homers in 112 games in 2015 and .199 with 22 homers in 131 games in 2014.
The Mariners used five catchers last season – Zunino, Hicks, Jesus Sucre, Welington Castillo and Steven Baron – and they combined to bat just .159, by far the lowest production in the Majors.
Dipoto has made four trades involving 16 players in the past three weeks and also re-signed Mariners free agent outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, but Iannetta represents his first free agent pickup from another club.
Hicks joins former Virginia teammate Danny Hultzen on the DFA list. The Mariners designated Hultzen for assignment on Friday. The club has 10 days to trade, release or outright both players to the Minors. Hicks, a fourth-round selection in the 2011 Draft, has hit .280 in 403 games over five Minor League seasons and batted .245 with six homers and 35 RBIs in 83 games for Triple-A Tacoma last season before being called up in late August.