On December 8th the Seattle Mariners signed free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo to a two-year contract worth $7 million with a club option for a third year. Just a few days prior to the agreement with Olivo, Seattle signed free-agent DH Jack Cust to a one-year $2.5 million deal. Personally I am in favor of neither deal.
Jack Cust is a prototypical DH. He is a hack anywhere in the field and the only value he can generate is with his left-handed bat. The defensive metric UZR, which measures defense in the extra runs saved (or cost) by having the player in the field rates Cust poorly. Cust cost’s his team over 20 runs a season when in the outfield.
At the plate Cust is a “three true outcomes” hitter. The three true outcomes are walks, strikeouts and home runs. The last two years Russell Branyan has been the team’s resident “three true outcomes” player. In 112 games in 2010 for the Oakland Athletics, Jack Cust hit 13 home runs, walked 68 times and struck out a 127 times.
On the outside of the deal, Cust looks like a solid addition; he walks a lot, he batted .272 last year and he is only a few years removed from a season in which he hit 33 home runs. Additionally, he was worth a decent 2.4 WAR, which measures the wins a player provides over a replacement-level player. Despite these factors, Cust has all the signs of being terrible next year. Even though he is only 31 years old, Cust may be on the rapid decline in much the same way Richie Sexson was his last two years here.
The last four years Cust has seen his HR/FB drop, the statistic (in form of a percent) is used to measure how many of the hitter's fly balls resulted in home runs. In 2007, 31.7 percent of Jack Cust’s fly balls left the yard, however last season only 14.9 percent did. This is quite alarming for a guy who gets most of his value from smashing long balls. In Sexson’s time with the Mariners he faced a similar fate, going from 24.5 percent HR/FB down to a lowly 17.4 percent.
One other alarming thing about Cust: He hits most of his home runs to left field, which is especially bad when it comes to hitting in Safeco. In 2010, Cust hit seven of his 13 home runs to left, one to center and five to right field. His slugging percentage backed this up because he slugged .679 when he pulled the ball (to right field) and he slugged .787 when he hit the ball to left field. You can look at his home run chart for 2010 here.
The other free agent Seattle added also seems to be a bad move, although this time it is a player who has spent time in a Mariners uniform before. Miguel Olivo, a catcher, came to Seattle in 2004 with two other players as part of the trade that sent Freddy Garcia to the Chicago White Sox. Olivo was jettisoned by Seattle during the 2005 season and has played in Florida, Kansas City and Colorado since then.
He is exactly the type of hitter who fails in Seattle, a right-handed hitter who doesn’t walk or hit for average, and can only pull the ball to left field. Safeco is particularly hard on right-handed hitters, and Olivo’s only offensive upside is from pulling a few home runs every now and then. Olivo hit 14 home runs in 2010, and topped out at 23 in 2009. Olivo is a career .246 hitter as well, which is not very good. There is reason to believe he will be worse in 2011 too.
In 2010 he played in the very hitter-friendly Coors field and hit .318 with 10 of his 14 home runs. Away from the high altitude he only managed to hit .211 with four home runs in almost as many games. So, Olivo could really fall off the map as a hitter for the Mariners. Especially since he hit every home run last year to left field or center.
Another problem with the Olivo deal is that it is for two years even though the Mariners have a young catcher in Adam Moore who does have some potential left despite a bad first year in the majors. The Mariners are obviously saying that they have no faith in Moore by giving Olivo two years, which is sad because Moore never really got a chance to prove himself. He was once considered a pretty good prospect with the chance to be a catcher who hit above average for the position at the MLB level.
The only attribute Olivo has that is a plus would be his arm. Last year he threw out 42 percent of people attempting to steal bases, which is very good. Olivo will certainly be a better defender than any of the Mariners catchers last season.
To me, both of these deals look bad. Cust despite being a useful DH over the last few seasons may be on the decline and has a very real possibility to struggle hitting next year because his tendency to hit the ball to left field, and the fact that over the years his home runs have been coming less and less frequently due to a drop in his FB/HR rate. In fact, Cust is a worse player than former Mariner Russell Branyan, because he should hit fewer home runs, and strike out more.
Olivo, on the other hand, is a bad move because he is taking the spot of a promising young player, and the fact that he is likely to completely fall off the map with the bat while hitting at Safeco. Both of these contracts also seem like the type of players that get signed right before spring training traditionally because of their obvious flaws. However, Jack Zduriencik chose to sign these guys early in the game when better options were still on the market, making me wonder if the Mariners have less money to spend than the reported $16-plus million. Whatever the reason, it would be wise not to draft either of these guys for your fantasy baseball team.