Miguel Olivo: The Mariners Behind the Dish and the Sorry Market for Catchers

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Miguel Olivo: The Mariners Behind the Dish and the Sorry Market for Catchers
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The Mariners were bad behind the plate in 2010. In fact, they were sub-par in every position except right field. Miguel Olivo was recently signed to a two-year deal by the team to be their everyday catcher. The deal is worth $7,000,000—a reasonable figure considering his ability to call a game. Offensively, however, he is barely an upgrade over the trio of backstops who butchered the position for most of Seattle’s 2010 season.

Most of the playing time went to 26-year-old Adam Moore. He hit .195 in 218 plate appearances. He walked only eight times and was on pace for about 180 strikeouts. His defense was worth one run below replacement level.

Rob Johnson spent a lot of time behind the dish for the Mariners as well. Johnson hit .191 but is a better offensive player than Moore. Both were hit by bad luck on their batting averages on balls in play, but Johnson was hit slightly harder. While Adam Moore might be a 12-15 home run guy if he can learn discipline, Rob Johnson was on pace for only about six home runs. Park effect notwithstanding, those are paltry power numbers.

Rob Johnson’s 12 percent walk rate was better than the team's 2010 average of 8.5 percent. He strikes out a lot too, but not as much as Adam Moore.

Josh Bard also caught 39 games for the team. Bard is somewhere between Adam Moore and Rob Johnson in terms of talent. His career .256 average is underwhelming but he has shown good plate discipline in his best years, though he now appears to be in decline. After posting a .214/.276/.357 line, he will be lucky to sign a major-league deal for 2011.

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Miguel Olivo is like a band-aid that only covers half of the wound. He won’t hit for average as his career .246 mark attests. He cannot take a walk and will strike out a lot. His career walk rate is 4.1 percent. Compare that to the league average which tends to be somewhere between eight and nine percent. While the average hitter strikes about 20 percent of the time, Olivo’s K-rate tends to be closer to 30 percent.

His reputation as a power hitter will depend on whether he can stay in the lineup long enough to hit 15 home runs. 15 is probably his ceiling, given the pitcher-friendly nature of Safeco Field. Good defense will help him stay in the lineup.

Defensively, Olivo will be a huge upgrade for the Mariners. In fact, that defense makes his contract worth it to me. If you just consider the offense you have to question whether Olivo deserves a major-league job, but believe it or not, this was a smart deal for the Mariners to make. The pool of available catchers, which lost Victor Martinez early in the offseason, is strikingly poor. The remaining options are Bengie Molina, Gregg Zaun, Gerald Laird, Matt Treanor, Henry Blanco and Chad Moeller.

The best option for anyone in need of a catcher is probably Bengie Molina, traded from the Giants to the Rangers months before the two teams met in the World Series. Molina is just two years removed from a 20 home run season, but has seen his batting average drop in each of the past two seasons. He has always struggled to get on base, and has lost much of his power.

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Gregg Zaun has struggled to stay healthy and he approaches his fortieth birthday next April. While he has been slightly above average in the OBP department, he does little else and cannot be counted on.

Gerald Laird hit .218 over the last two seasons with nine home runs in a little more than one seasons’ worth of at bats. Finally, Matt Treanor, Henry Blanco, and Chad Moeller spent 2010 affirming why they are career backups. They can’t hit, but catching is not an easy job, so they remain employed.

Defense distinguishes Miguel Olivo. His offense is probably going to be a detriment to the team unless he finds the power he showed in 2009. But, it makes sense for the Mariners, who have money, to pay $3.5 million a year for his services over the next couple of years. The alternatives are even worse.

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