Olivo signing official … finally

OlivoMiguel.jpgYeah, this one feels like old news. The Mariners announced the official signing of catcher Miguel Olivo on Monday, 25 days after the veteran free agent agreed to terms on the final day of the Winter Meetings.

But this one got hung up in the paperwork stages, first when Olivo didn’t come to Seattle for his physical for two weeks and then in recent days because the Major League Baseball offices pretty much shut down after the Christmas holidays.

Once business as usual resumed Monday, the Mariners put a bow on the Olivo deal and announced the two-year deal, with a club option for a third season in 2013.

While some eyebrows have been raised about bringing back a catcher who struggled to hit in Safeco Field in his first stint with the Mariners in 2004-05, I like this deal. Olivo should upgrade the catching position and provide a veteran presence behind the plate, no small factor with a club featuring a number of youthful pitching prospects.

When you’re working in guys like Michael Pineda, Dan Cortes, Josh Lueke and even Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, it doesn’t hurt to have a catcher who has more than the minimal big-league experience that Adam Moore and Rob Johnson brought last year.

Olivo also adds a little pop to a lineup that needs all that it can get. Over the last two seasons, Olivo is tied for fifth among Major League catchers with 37 home runs. Over the past five years, he’s fifth among big-league catchers with 81 home runs.

Will he produce the same numbers at Safeco? Probably not as a right-handed hitter. But I also don’t expect him to struggle nearly as much as he did as a youngster.

The Mariners are going with more youth next season, but it makes sense to sprinkle in veterans in critical places to help with the building process. Having one young catcher in Moore is great. Having two inexperienced catchers, as was attempted last year, didn’t work so well.

The Mariners designated relief pitcher Anthony Varvaro for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. That one seemed predictable, given the 26-year-old has struggled with his control and didn’t seem destined for a bullpen spot this coming season. Varvaro likely winds up back in Tacoma, but we’ll have to wait the obligatory 10 days to see how that plays out.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Johns here. I think the M’s could have brought in another veteran catcher to caddy with Adam Moore, but Olivo wasn’t the right one, and certainly not on a 2-year contract.

First off, he’s already 32 years old, and statistics bear out that 32 is the age at which most catchers start their inevitable decline.

Second, Olivo completely crashed and burned in the second half last year. He hit .325 with 11 HR and 42 RBI in the first half of 2010, and he finished with a .269 average, 14 HR and 58 RBI. That means he only hit 3 HR and drove in only 16 runs in the second half of the season, and hit much closer to .200 than .300 during that period.

Third, Olivo is the kind of hitter who would have fit into last year’s Mariners lineup moreso that what they want to do with it going forward. A 117/27 K/BB ratio doesn’t exactly scream plate discipline.

And fourth, we can’t ignore the fact that Safeco Field can bring out the worst in some hitters, especially if they’re dead-pull right-handed hitters… as Olivo is.

Now, if the M’s send Moore back to the minors and bring in a Josh Bard type as Olivo’s backup, I could understand that, as I’m sure the M’s don’t want to have Moore accumulating major league service time as a backup. But signing Olivo to a 2-year deal is a bit mystifying; I would think that Olivo is most probably NOT going to have a strong offensive season, making that extra year on his contract an albatross the M’s will have to bear if they want to trade him come July.

Now I don’t want to completely tear Olivo down. His defense is very good, and he’s excellent at throwing out potential base-stealers. But, as I noted above, Olivo is 32, so that aspect of his game will begin to show signs of age very soon.

So if the M’s had signed Olivo to a one-year deal, I’d be ok with that. A 2-year deal, however, was not such a great idea, and I think it will come back to bite the M’s fairly quickly.

Agree totally with the first commenter on Olivo’s hitting and lack of plate discipline (now that we got rid of Jose Lopez, we had to get someone who’s worse than Jose??), but I have to disagree on his catching.

Olivo couldn’t catch the ball when he was here the first time (14 passed balls in 103 games with Seattle) and a quick check of the stats shows that years later he still hasn’t learned how to catch the ball. In four of the last five years he’s led his league in passed balls. The other year he only played 84 games due to an injury. This is not a veteran you want setting an example for your young, impressionable players!

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