This is the first post of what I hope is many on potential free agents. I will first start with players that are with the Mariners and then hopefully do some scouting reports on players that are not with the Mariners but potential free agent signings. Here I will talk about Miguel Olivo and Munenori Kawasaki. I had to get this one out of the way first before I could get to more interesting ones (such as Josh Kinney, Oliver Perez, and Kevin Millwood). Both Olivo and Kawasaki have played under replacement, meaning they did not play like MLB players. Miguel Olivo has a 3 million dollar option next year, with a $750,000 buyout.
Olivo has walked just 1.4% of the time, which is really remarkable (and last in the big leagues). He has never walked much at all, at just 3.9% (the average catcher in the Majors this season walked 8.8% of the time) for his career. Since he doesn’t hit for much of an average at all, this leads to incredibly low OBPs (.275 for his career and .220 this year). Although he has always had some power, because he is so inefficient at the plate (slugging percentage is not just a statistic that measures power, it uses batting average as well), his slugging percentage has been under .400 the last 2 years. He strikes out way too much at 26.4% (for his career and the year) to not walk or hit for elite power (his ISO has also been on a steady decline and was below league average compared to other MLB catchers this season). It all comes back to his plate discipline. Because he doesn’t have it, he doesn’t see many fastballs (he sees about 25% less fastballs down the middle than an average hitter). According to Baseball Prospectus’ Pitch F/X profile, he swings and misses at pitches in the zone more than an average hitter in all 9 squares inside the zone. In fact, in the low middle part of the zone, he swings and misses 200% more than a normal right-handed hitter. So it is not just plate discipline. It is not just the fact that he swings at far more pitches out of the zone, which he does, as this swing map against left-handed pitching shows:
He has a well below average contact tool. He doesn’t just strikeout on pitches out of the zone, he strikes out on pitches in the zone, even when he swings.
Behind the plate, we all know the story. He has a legit arm but lacks in other normal catcher skills such as pitch framing and blocking. In all, he doesn’t seem to be a very good defensive catcher (although is sadly the best one on the team)
Next year, the team will have John Jaso and Jesus Montero under contract. Who knows how the Mariners will use Montero, but you would have to imagine he will get some time at 1st base. Jaso is not a good defensive catcher and has been used as a DH quite a bit, but if you don’t bring back Olivo it is hard to put both Jaso and Montero in the lineup (especially if you don’t put one of them at 1st) at the same time. Mike Zunino should start the year in the minors, but could be in the big leagues by midseason. He is a legitimate catcher and would help them in this regard. In the meantime, the team could go after a minor league free agent (a Guillermo Quiroz type) and carry him on the roster for a couple of months and just DFA him when Zunino is ready. Another route may be to give up on Jaso and Montero as catchers, use Montero at 1st and Jaso mainly as a DH and sign a legit catcher this off-season. I don’t expect them to sign an expensive bad defensive catcher like Mike Napoli, and Humberto Quintero, Rob Barajas, and Yorvit Torrealba are all guys that will probably get minor league contracts. Right now, David Ross would be a high end guy that I could see the Mariners targeting in this situation or Kelly Shoppach and Gerald Laird as low end guys. We will know more as the off-season goes on.
I think it is pretty easy and straight forward. Decline Olivo’s option and pay him the $750,000 buyout. There are too many better ways the Mariners could approach the catcher position for them to exercise his option.
Munenori Kawasaki was signed out of Japan to a minor league contract with a strong chance to make the team (similar to Kevin Millwood, who was basically slated to make the team anyway). He had good numbers in spring training, but as you know, that means nothing and Kawasaki went on to prove just that.
I think we can agree that he played pretty well defensively (the small sample size probably keeps us from paying attention to defensive metrics, although they thought he was above average), although he is clearly inferior to starting shortstop Brendan Ryan. He also hit worse than Brendan Ryan by a long shot, with an ISO of .010 and .200 SLG. It is just 110 plate appearances, but that is awful. When you set the minimum to 110 plate appearances, just one player (Brent Morel, who was at least demoted for it) had a worse SLG. Only Emmanuel Burriss has a worse ISO out of players with at least 110 plate appearances. One of the more humorous things I found was the fact that 0ut of the 8 balls he put in play that were high in the strike zone, Kawasaki hit 5 grounders (you would normally expect only about 1/4th of them to be put on the ground).
He was advertized as someone who could run the bases and was used some as a pinch runner. However, he had more fake steals than steals. Other than being your second best defensive shortstop, he really provided no value for the Mariners. My bet is that he goes back to Japan. He simply isn’t a MLB player. There will be better options out there for the Mariners when it comes to utility infielders and they might have a couple options in the minors.
The coming posts will be more detailed, but I think it is pretty apparent that neither Olivo or Kawasaki should be brought back by the Mariners.