It's my understanding that Major League Baseball likes to avoid having teams make news during the World Series, so that all the focus can remain singularly on the championship. But the Seattle Mariners pretty clearly don't really care what Major League Baseball thinks. First, the Mariners gave playing time to Miguel Olivo, even though doing so reduced the quality of the product and drove away potential viewers and revenue. And now, hours before the World Series kicks off, the Mariners have announced they've declined Olivo's 2013 option, and also released Munenori Kawasaki from his major-league contract. Who can even think about Barry Zito and Justin Verlander anymore? I know I was, and then I was like, now I'm thinking about something else.
Olivo's two-year contract included a $3 million 2013 club option. It's looking like the 2013 Mariners are going to have a need for a guy like Olivo, by which I mean a right-handed catcher who doesn't have to play every day. $3 million is not a whole lot of money, when it comes to big-league baseball teams, but it is a whole lot of money to be paying Miguel Olivo, so the Mariners are going to not do that. This is what was expected, but this is also welcome news, on account of reasons I know I don't need to get into.
One assumes we've seen the last of Miguel Olivo in a Mariners uniform. One cannot be absolutely certain, and one would be wise to not take anything for granted, but if this is the end, then Olivo batted 1,160 times as a Mariner over separate stints. He finished with more home runs than walks and a lower Mariners OBP than Freddy Garcia. Also a lower OBP than Munenori Kawasaki and a lower OBP than Mario Mendoza, the player after whom the Mendoza Line got its name. The Mendoza Line is supposed to be the mark of offensive futility and the guy the Mendoza Line was named after made outs less often as a Mariner than Miguel Olivo did. And Mendoza was considered a good defender while Miguel Olivo was basically a t-shirt cannon. Sometimes Olivo would launch a baseball to second base to catch a would-be base-stealer but he couldn't block pitches for shit. You remember those pictures of goalies you would attach to a hockey net, and there would be holes between the legs, underneath the arms, and above the shoulders? Olivo was like that, except with the filled space and empty space reversed.
When Olivo first signed, he signed for so little money that I figured he'd have a hard time not being worth it. By pretty much any worthwhile metric, he wasn't worth it, and though we can't yet quantify everything about being a catcher, something tells me Olivo won't start to look better as we learn more and more about the position. Just for funsies, here are two batting lines:
One of those belongs to Mariner Miguel Olivo and one of those belongs to Mariner Carlos Peguero. I'm not going to tell you which is which because eventually you'll get curious and you'll investigate, and you'll have to stare at the numbers just like I just did. You'll have to subject yourself to the Olivo player page like I did, and you'll have to subject yourself to the Peguero player page like I did. I guess you technically only have to look at one, but you'll also check the other, just to be certain. I have spent so much time on those player pages. You need to feel some fraction of my agony. I don't know who between Olivo and Peguero showed the worse batting approach, but I know fans of other teams haven't had to consider matters like this. Other teams have had undisciplined players but this was the extreme of that.
This all reads very negative and I never had any issue with Miguel Olivo as a person. He always seemed genuinely kind, and committed, and he was one tough son of a bitch. I sense that Miguel Olivo and I could get along. It wouldn't have been so bad if the Mariners had signed Olivo to be a friend of mine. But instead the Mariners signed Olivo to be a baseball player so I'm left to evaluate him based on his baseball performance. I would rather not give it any more words.
So we move on to Kawasaki. I don't think anybody expected that Kawasaki would still be around in 2013 but I also don't think anybody expected to hear about his contract status now. He's gone, from the Mariners and probably from the major leagues, and it's a bittersweet separation because we had a lot of good times with Kawasaki on the roster. This is what's undeniably for the best, though, since Kawasaki was essentially a mascot and that was never going to be as fun the second time around as it was the first. There are few movies I enjoy more for their absurdity than Cannibal! The Musical. To my knowledge no sequel was ever made to Cannibal! The Musical and that's just the way I likes it. It would've been worse. I would've resented it.
Kawasaki was maybe the only player ever who wanted to play for the Mariners and only the Mariners. That was instantly endearing, and while he already had a bond with Ichiro, it was fun to watch Kawasaki come into his own over the course of the spring and the season. In the spring, he developed a reputation for never shutting up. He was always making noise, and what we found out was that he was basically always doing something. Some players are like computers that are either on or off. Kawasaki was a screensaver. He probably even sang the flying toaster music.
We saw Kawasaki do push-ups after diving back into first base. We saw Kawasaki bluff a steal by running in place. We saw Kawasaki mimic the dancing groundskeepers in the dugout, we saw Kawasaki get to third base with Casper Wells in a postgame celebration, and we saw Kawasaki wave to the fans in Safeco before walking into the dugout after games. There were seldom any dull moments just watching Munenori Kawasaki. He was among the team's most watchable people.
But Kawasaki also just wasn't much of a player. When Ichiro got traded, he stuck around, and he spoke highly of the players still around him, but Kawasaki had accomplished what he set out to accomplish and the Mariners had given him the opportunity. They were going to go their separate ways.
I went to a very small high school, which meant players couldn't be cut from athletic teams. You could be JV instead of varsity, but seniors were guaranteed varsity status. I remember one baseball player named Matt, who I refer to as a baseball player only because he was technically on the baseball team. Visually, Matt looked not unathletic. He was little, but he looked like he could blend in with a group of legitimate baseball players. Everything went out the window when you saw Matt swing, though. I've never seen a slower bat from someone who wasn't just stretching or playing pepper. Matt's bat just dragged and it was all he could do in batting practice to make contact and float the ball over the infield. I don't remember a lot from my baseball days, but this I could never forget. Matt was just humiliatingly awful. The coaches could never let him play, and they hardly ever let him play.
Kawasaki didn't have that slow of a bat -- he did play professionally in Japan and Seattle -- but by major-league standards, he was as weak as they come. I never had any faith that Kawasaki would drive a ball past the infield, and I don't know if Kawasaki would hit a major-league home run if he were given ten thousand plate appearances in Colorado. As a Mariner, he batted 115 times, slugging .202 with one extra-base hit. It was a flare double. That's the lowest Mariner slugging percentage ever for a player with triple-digit PAs. Second-lowest: .241, Eduardo Perez. Good trade!
Remarkably, out of 459 players who batted at least 100 times this season, Kawasaki's wOBA was only 14th-worst. He did better than Eric Sogard, and he did better than Hideki Matsui. He did better than Ryan Lavarnway, who the Mariners tried to get for Doug Fister in the middle of 2011. By performance, Kawasaki was not the worst hitter in baseball. But he was a bad hitter, statistically and visually, and he didn't belong on a big-league roster. We just didn't mind for six months because he hardly ever played, the Mariners weren't going anywhere, and as long as Chone Figgins was hanging around there were more urgent complaints.
I can't imagine 2012 without Munenori Kawasaki, because he made every day brighter. I am pleased and grateful to have had the experience. Fans of no other team in major league baseball got to have what we had, and ours was an experience most unusual and enjoyable. This was a one-time thing, though, and I'm glad it's been properly identified as such. We had our fun, and maybe in 2013 the Mariners will be worth a damn. They should be worth more of a damn with a player of real value occupying Kawasaki's roster spot. That's cold but it's true because the world is cold and getting colder. It's actually getting much much warmer but we make it emotionally cold because we are monsters.
Fun fact: in 2010 in Japan, Kawasaki batted .316 with 36 extra-base hits. Good luck ever taking another Japanese player seriously for as long as you live.