Mariners Insider

Some post-Winter Meetings thoughts on the Mariners moves

Post by Ryan Divish on Dec. 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm with 6 Comments »
December 10, 2010 6:00 pm

Sitting here in the Orlando International Airport and trying to come up with words to describe what the Mariners did at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings the past four days.

Optimists might use words like cost-efficient, value-based and underrated.

Cynics might toss out words like unexciting, uninspiring, and unimproving (is that word? Well it is today).

And bitter pessimists might label the few moves that the Mariners made poor, dull, cheap, wastes of money, confusing, irritating or dumb.

Me?

Normally, I’m an angry cynic on my best days. But when it came to these moves, I guess I would use these two words to describe the Mariners moves: purposeful and expected.

Now let me be quick to point out that I did not expect the signing of Miguel Olivo to a 2-year, $7 million contract. At first, I was in disbelief, then confused and then borderline apoplectic. I knew the Mariners were going to add a catcher. I just wasn’t expecting Olivo, and I certainly would never have thought a two-year contract.

Meanwhile the signing of DH Jack Cust didn’t surprise me. And the rumored possibility of signing Laynce Nix didn’t even raise an eyebrow.

These were the only type of moves the Mariners could make. They couldn’t go out and get Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth or Cliff Lee. They couldn’t reasonably even compete for the likes of Adam Dunn, Adrian Beltre or Carl Pavano.

This is who the Mariners are right now. They are no longer a big payroll team. They aren’t a small payroll team. They are stuck in the middle and at that point, you still have to be smart with how you spend your money.

Don’t like it? Well, you can blame the ownership for not giving them more payroll. Or you can look at the group of Ichiro, Felix Hernandez, Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson and Franklin Gutierrez and see where the bulk of the payroll went to this season — $57 million of it.

Maybe the moves aren’t sexy and make you want to go to the ball park or buy season tickets, but they do make the Mariners somewhat better for next season. With the payroll limitations, they can only get better incrementally.

Do I think Jack Zduriencik is done making moves? No, not even close. He will try and trade Aardsma, Bradley and Figgins all the way up until the trade deadline. But lets take a look at the two moves we know he’s making and at the contract offer rumored to be out there.

Laynce Nix, OF

He’s the prototypical fourth outfielder for a team. In fact that’s largely been his role for most of his career. Only in 2004, did he have 400 plate appearances. He has a career .243 batting average, .286 on-base percentage and .425 slugging percentage.

He hit 15 home runs in 2009 for the Reds. So he does have a little pop. He’s a capable base runner and defender. About the only surprising aspect of the Mariners looking into acquiring him is that he bats left-handed. The Mariners already have a left-handed hitting left fielder in Michael Saunders. So that would rule out a platoon situation. But then again, after seeing what happened to Adam Moore, Michael Saunders should be on high alert – if he wasn’t already. It’s clear that this regime is going to make young players earn starting jobs. And more importantly, perform and produce to keep them.

Jack Cust, DH/OF

Contract: 1-year, $2.5 million.

I’m stealing this from Dave Cameron of USS Mariner, but in 53 percent of his 2,311 career plate appearances, Cust has either hit a homer (102), walked (400) or struck out (732).

Hence the nickname the “The Three True Outcomes”

Cust started last season in Triple A, but was called up and appeared in 112 games, hitting .242 with 13 homers and 52 RBI. He had 68 walks and 127 strikeouts.

He said he’s being brought in to be the every day DH. Obviously his career splits show that he’s not outstanding against left-handed pitchers, but they aren’t catastrophically bad.

Cust can be compared somewhat to Russell Branyan. He doesn’t have Branyan’s tape measure power, but he walks a little bit more and doesn’t have Branyan’s bad back either.

Over the past three seasons, Cust played in 409 games, and hit .245 with 71 homers and 199 RBI. He walked 227 times and struck out 509 times. He posted an on-base percentage of .373 and a .444 slugging percentage.

Over the same time period, Branyan played in 276 games and hit .243 with 68 homers and 153 RBIs. He had a .337 OBP and a .515 slugging.

One thing the Mariners cannot do is play Cust in the outfield more than a few times this season. It’s fine if you need him to do it in a pinch. But he can’t play two or three times a week out there. He has a career -22.3 UZR rating as an outfielder,.

You bring Cust in knowing he’s a DH, first and almost always. And he will be an upgrade at the position last year. Think about this: Mariners DHs combined to hit .194 (113-for-582) with 21 homers and 60 RBI and a tepid .269 on-base percentage and unacceptable .340 slugging percentage last season. And think about those numbers if you take away the 14 homers and 29 RBIs they got from Russell Branyan at that position.

Cust is an improvement at the position. Is he Edgar Martinez? Is he Vlad Guerrero? No. But he’s better than what the Mariners had last season.

And finally ….

Miguel Olivo, C

Contract: 2-years, $7million

Look I’m not going to say I’m in favor of this signing. But I’m not ready call it awful or terrible. And some of the pure rage I’ve seen from Mariners fans about the move is a little overblown. It’s not giving up 5 players for one. It’s a free agent contract.

On the surface, it seems strange. Dig a little deeper and it seems odd. But if you look at it this way, you can see some of the thinking – the Mariners got little or no production from the position last season.

How little?

Last season, Rob Johnson, Adam Moore, Josh Bard, Eliezer Alfonzo and Guillermo Quiroz all took turns behind the plate. As a group, they combined to hit .201 (109-for-541) with 10 homers and 42 RBI. The unit produced a .263 on-base percentage and a .303 slugging percentage with  43 walks, while striking out 146 times.

Even Moore himself called it unacceptable.

Olivo’s numbers over the last few years say he can put up better numbers than those five players produced. Does it mean more wins? Not necessarily.

Does his power translate to Safeco Field? It doesn’t seem to. Obviously, the last time he was with the Mariners, it went quite poorly.

If you are unfamiliar with his hitting approach, he is basically Jose Lopez. He looks for fast balls and tries to pull them to left. Always. He might even take wilder hacks than Lopez.

But obviously he’s improved as a player. His stats say that much. He’s not the same kid that was overwhelmed in Seattle in 2004 and 2005. He’s played over 500 games since then.

And Olivo is the starter. You sign a contract like that, you start. Also it’s a well known fact around baseball that if Olivo doesn’t play, he tends to pout. It’s why he isn’t back in Colorado. It’s one of the reasons why he isn’t in Kansas City, along with receiving struggles.

Does this mean that the Mariners have given up on Moore?

It might appear that way. But really, I think Jack Zduriencik looked at his catching depth – Adam Moore and Rob Johnson and no one else – and wasn’t satisfied and wasn’t going to accept that type of production from that position again this season. So he made a move to improve.

The question remains: How does Moore improve at the big league level if he doesn’t get to play?

Olivo is the starting catcher. Yes, Moore has minor league options. But he’s proven he can excel at the Triple A level. He hasn’t done that at the major league level. Of course, he has less than 300 at-bats.

So does he need to continue to play every day in Triple A, or does he sit behind Olivo and play once or twice a week?

It will be interesting how Zduriencik and Eric Wedge decide to make this work.

Of course, Moore could always get dealt as part of a package of players. But his value isn’t nearly as high as it was year or two ago.

To be honest, I understood the Cust signing, and I would understand the Nix signing. But it’s tough to figure out the Olivo signing in terms of where they are going as a team, particularly with a two-year contract. But that being said, this is baseball and Olivo is clearly a better player than he was the first time in Seattle. And the Mariners took a struggling position and made it better – to what degree won’t know.

And if he can provide some production, some power and some leadership from that position and help the Mariners win more games then Zduriencik will be justified.  Would I be surprised if that happens? Not quite as surprised as when the Mariners signed him.

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Leave a comment Comments → 6
  1. Ryan, is Olivo really better then Bard? or for that matter Jaime Burke?

  2. nonstopjoe says:

    This time last year fans had high expectations. Such is not the case this year – we know the Mariners are truly lousy and not likely to get better anytime soon..

  3. shaun9778 says:

    Olivo is a joke! If they were trying to find the one guy that fit with that disaster of a season last year they found him. He’s a perfect fit. Can’t wait for another .210 BA with a .260 OBP. I bet Tom Lampkin could do better if he played today!

  4. When I first heard this deal, I was appalled. Miguel Olivo blocking the development of Adam Moore was a big mistake.

    Then I looked at two things. The first was the numbers, particularly defensive numbers. Compared to every other catcher in the major leagues, Miguel Olivo has the best numbers–best Dewan ratings, best number against base stealers. Trouble blocking passed balls, but still better than the Moore/RoJo combo.

    Hitting is still a damn sight better than any catcher in a Mariner uniform in 2010. .269/.315/.449 though he is an impatient right handed pull hitter.

    Perhaps the most important reason for this deal however, is Zdurencik’s stated impatience with many of the young Mariners players. Moore is going to have to show something in order to win a starting job and he’s been put on notice.

  5. I don’t understand why management just commit a rebuilding plan. I mean, lets get real we haven’t had a farm system for ten years and they keep burning holes in their pockets for scotch tape to fix this. They bust the bank for Beltre, Sexson, Silva. Add Vidro and Everett and think you get better. Ridiculous. They don’t know how to spend money, or rebuild. You gotta do one or the other. The problem of this franchise lies at its core, which is upper management.

    Yes they spend money but they can’t do it effectively. Maybe they’ll soon realize you can’t build through Free Agency, it’s expensive and ugly. I don’t know what else it’s going to take to let upper management get the hint and figure it out.

    Maybe they’ll allow Jack Z to rebuild. My guts says no because they’re blocking talent and clearly trying to win now. At least Jack Z is making progress in our youth movement. Smoak should be an all-star in a couple years. And a real good one. Felix is 1/1 in his 5 straight Cy Youngs. Gutti can be a cornerstone at center. We’re pretty young, we just harvest the crops in a few years. That’s how you win championships.

  6. dave8557 says:

    I remember Olivo couldn’t hit .150 with Mariners. I wouldn’t bring him back for that reason alone. Next, they’ll be bringing back Jeff Cirillo, or Jose Vidro, or Richie Sexson, or…

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