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Miguel Olivo Signs With Mariners As Dread Sets In

Let's make one thing clear right now - this could be a disaster. This could be a disaster because this has already been a disaster once before, as Miguel Olivo has played for the Mariners and made outs nearly 80% of the time he came to the plate. Those of us who watched the M's in '04 and '05 remember Olivo as looking like perhaps the most helpless and hopeless hitter we've ever seen, and not a whole lot has changed. He still has the same approach. It's a lousy approach.

Not that this could ever be a real franchise-crippler, of course. Jon Morosi says it's a two-year deal with a 2013 option worth a guaranteed $7 million, and my suspicion is that it's something like two years and $6.5 million with a $0.5 million option buyout. That's too small a contract to make a huge difference. But Olivo the player - Olivo could be a mess.

But at the same time, he might not be. Yes, he's a 32 year old catcher. Yes, his time spent in Seattle previously was a nightmare. Over the past five seasons, though, Olivo's batted .254/.287/.444. He was a decent hitter with the Royals as recently as 2009, so he hasn't just padded his numbers in the NL or in Coors Field. Olivo has a track record - a recent track record - of being okay.

That's something we all have to keep in mind. As a righty pull hitter, it doesn't help that he's a lousy fit for Safeco Field, but then most hitters are a lousy fit for Safeco Field. Not everyone can be a lefty or a righty who hits to all fields. Olivo has been terrible in Seattle, but he was also good in a brief stint in San Diego, and he was fine in Kansas City, where righties struggle to hit home runs as much as they do here. Safeco isn't guaranteed to kill him.

Here's what Olivo brings: strikeouts, passed balls, home runs, and a strong throwing arm. Pretty much just those four things. Two of them are bad, and two of them are good. If he starts striking out more and homering less, then that's bad news, because we can already predict that he'll have a poor OBP. Only once in his career has he posted an OBP north of .300. He's going to make outs. So he needs to be able to slug the ball to help out. Fortunately, he's established that he can slug the ball often enough. He's been doing it for years.

And if he can do that here, he'll be fine. Remember that catchers aren't held to the same offensive standard as most everybody else. They have a lower baseline, which makes Olivo's numbers more acceptable. You wouldn't want Miguel Olivo as a DH. But as a backstop? Then it fits a little better.

Given that Olivo has played in 226 games over the past two years, he isn't signing here to be a backup. He's going to be the starter. Not a near-everyday starter like Yadier Molina, but the majority starter. In other words, Adam Moore becomes the reserve for the time being, while Rob Johnson falls out of the picture. That'll make some people mad, as they want to see Moore develop with more regular playing time, but you can develop starting 50 or 60 games in a season. Moore demonstrated in 2010 that he has a lot of work to do if he wants to stick. You can't ask him to be a regular in 2011 and expect him to hold his own. He still needs to be eased in, and he can still work on improving his shortcomings from behind Olivo on the depth chart.

And if Moore improves and shows himself ready, then Olivo won't be much of an obstacle. He has a small enough contract that he can be bumped, and he has a small enough contract that he can be traded. Just because Olivo's the starter now doesn't mean he's guaranteed to be the starter next season.

All in all, I don't see this as being a great signing, nor do I see it as being a terrible one. It could be a terrible one, if Olivo plays as terribly as he did several years ago, but it could also be a great one if he hits like he did in 2009, so, who knows? $7 million over two years is not a ton of money for a catcher who has recently been all right.

I know that people aren't wild about the prospect of watching Olivo on TV. Actually watching Olivo is probably the worst part of the whole thing, as his batting approach is painfully poor. He has no sense of selectivity and swings at almost everything. He's like Jose Lopez without the contact, and his slumps - and, oh, will there be slumps - will be exercises in visual torture. Every time Miguel Olivo comes up to bat, no matter the situation, nobody will have any faith that he'll be able to put the ball in play. But if Olivo looks awful, and then we step back and see that he's slugging .440, then that's what matters. If he's helping, he's helping.

So Olivo's probably going to be a lot of people's least favorite Mariner in the season to come. That's fine, but it's also subjective, and objectively, this deal makes sense. Olivo gives the Mariners a decent second-tier offensive catcher. He also brings a warm Latin personality to the clubhouse, which could matter in ways I don't feel like getting into. I know we all want Felix to be happy, and this will make Felix happy. If he sucks - and there's a good chance that he absolutely sucks - then that's too bad, and a lot of people will reflect on today and say "I told you so," but just looking at the numbers, I think this could work. I think Olivo could be worth his contract. And in the end, that's really all you can ask for.