Olivo’s option not renewed; Kawasaki released
Miguel Olivo saw the writing on the wall last season, which means he won’t see the writing on an extended contract with the Mariners. Olivo lost playing time to Jesus Montero and John Jaso, both acquired by offseason trades, and knew he wasn’t part of Seattle’s future.
That played out Wednesday when the club announced Olivo will not have his $3 million contract option picked up for 2013 and thus becomes a free agent the day after the World Series ends.
Additionally, the Mariners said they were releasing utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki (pictured above) from his Major League contract, which makes him a free agent able to sign with any other team as well.
Kawasaki was a fan favorite, an outgoing sort who became something of a team mascot with his constant dancing and jabbering. For a guy who rarely played and barely spoke English, he certainly made his presence felt in his one season in Seattle.
But Kawasaki wasn’t much of a hitter — he batted .192 with just one extra-base hit (a double) — in 104 at-bats. So while there will forever be some fans who insist he should have received a chance to supplant Brendan Ryan, the fact is that he wasn’t as gifted defensively as Ryan and his .202 slugging percentage was indicative of the total lack of ability to hit Major League pitching.
As bad a season as Ryan had with his .194/.277/.278 line, Kawasaki was even lighter at the plate at .192/.257/.202. And while a solid defender, he wasn’t close to Ryan at shortstop.
Kawasaki was under Mariners team control after signing a Minor League deal last year, though he had an opt-out to return to Japan if he wanted. But Wednesday’s move opens the door for him to go to any MLB club if he gets any offers elsewhere.
Olivo was the anti-Kawasaki, a lightning rod for many fans who didn’t understand why he continued to start as many games as he did for manager Eric Wedge while hitting just .223 in two years in Seattle. Wedge valued Olivo’s ability to control the running game as he had one of the better arms in the league. And he was a veteran presence with a young pitching staff.
But Olivo struggled with other aspects defensively and didn’t hit enough to hold off Montero and Jaso, two promising youngsters with bright futures. With first-round Draft pick Mike Zunino looming on the horizon, the Mariners obviously have their long-term plan behind the plate secured.
So while it was obvious to everyone, including Olivo, that he wouldn’t be coming back, I will miss him on a personal level. He was a guy who could get down when his playing time diminished, but had a great sense of humor and loved poking fun with reporters who gained his confidence.
For some reason, he always wanted to challenge me to boxing matches or pretend fights in the clubhouse or dugout. A year ago, I found myself with a towel wrapped around my neck and Olivo telling me I needed to learn self-defense after I’d innocently been walking through the clubhouse in Oakland before a game. I told him that made perfect sense … if somebody attacked me with a towel at the pool.
This was a barrel-chested workout warrior that even the strongest of baseball players didn’t want to tangle with in a serious fight, so it was humorous for a 54-year-old sports writer to engage in any antics. But with Olivo, it was all in good fun.
He told me on one road trip this year that he got a kick out of the fact that Tacoma News Tribune writer Larry LaRue never knew whether he was joking or serious with him. Then a week later, when LaRue was standing in a group with several of us, Olivo walked up and said, “I like you and you and you,” while pointing to the rest of us. “But you have made me mad,” he said to LaRue. “I’m not talking to you anymore.”
And then he stalked off with a glare on his face, leaving LaRue wondering what he’d done to anger the big man.
But truth be known, Olivo is a good-hearted dude who enjoyed talking about life and kids and taking care of people, the kind of guy who would have your back if needed. I know that won’t change anybody’s opinion of his value as a player, but it is a side of the man most never had a chance to see and I wish him well in his future.
Olivo now joins four other Mariners — pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma, Kevin Millwood, Oliver Perez and George Sherrill — as free agents when the World Series ends. Millwood is contemplating retirement and Sherrill is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but I would think the Mariners would definitely be interested in trying to re-sign Iwakuma after his strong second half as a starter, and possibly Perez as well after his bounce-back performance as a lefty reliever.
After the World Series, every team has five days to sign their own free agents. After that, it’s everybody’s ballgame.