The mystery over whether Miguel Olivo would be classified a Type B free agent (and snare a supplemental first round pick upon his departure) turned out to be a moot point when he and the Royals papered over their differences and mutually agreed on his 2009 option, adding a 2010 option in return.
The calculus of this deal partly depends on whether the Royals could have swapped his services for a draft pick. Unfortunately, I still don’t know if he was a Type B free agent or not; two different source have given two different results.
Just evaluating him as a player, it’s hard to get past Olivo’s .278 OBP last year, or the fact that this performance actually raised his career mark to .275. Olivo was as responsible as anyone for the team’s historic reluctance to draw walks last year; he took a free pass just seven times all year, which is to say, he was as likely to steal a base (a perfect 7-for-
In his defense, Olivo is pretty damn valuable for someone with a .278 OBP. He hit 22 doubles and 12 homers in half a season’s work; on defense, he threw out 14 of 33 attempted basestealers, proving that John Buck’s difficulties (12-for-71) were not the fault of the pitching staff. (Buck was Meche’s personal catcher for most of the season, and with Buck behind the plate, opponents stole 12 bases in 13 attempts. In eight games with Olivo back there, only one player attempted a steal – and he was gunned down.)
Olivo had a better year than Buck, both offensively and defensively, but that alone is hardly justification for bringing him back. Olivo remains a terrible fit for the lineup, as his lack of OBP exacerbates a team-wide problem, and precisely because the rest of the team struggles to get on base, Olivo’s power (with him batting low in the lineup, behind out factories like Jose Guillen) is less valuable than it might otherwise be.
There’s no question he’s deserving a roster spot – it’s a big question whether it’s worth paying a couple of million for a platoon player. Olivo once again played wallball against left-handed pitchers, hitting .262/.296/.534 against them, but just .251/.268/.399 against more traditional folk. This extends a career-long tendency for pronounced platoon splits; his career numbers are .286/.315/.526 vs. LHP, .224/.260/.367 vs. RHP.
Because his platoon splits are so massive, Olivo’s worth is very much tied up with his usage. Unfortunately, I see no reason to think that the Royals are going to maximize his value by using him in a way that utilizes his strengths and avoids exposing his weaknesses. He agreed to return largely because he was promised the role of #1 catcher, and anyway, the Royals are in no position to spend millions of dollars on a platoon catcher, which means they have no intention of using him in that role even if they should.
So while the decision to re-sign Olivo could work, I am doubtful that it will, and I think the Royals would have done better to let Olivo go and keep the money (and – possibly – the draft pick.) But now that they’ve kept Olivo, they have to figure out what to do with Buck.
Having both Olivo and Buck didn’t make a lot of sense in 2008, and I don’t see how it makes any more sense in 2009. You’d be hard-pressed to find two more similar players at the same position – low-average hitters with OBP issues and mid-range power. Olivo’s a lifetime .241 hitter; Buck’s at .234. If you compress their career numbers into a 162-game season, then Buck has 29 doubles, 1 triple, 19 homers; Olivo has 28, 3, and 18. Buck would strike out 137 times over a 162-game season, Olivo 141 times. Buck has figured out the strike zone the last two years and draws walks at about a league-average rate, but his ability to throw out baserunners has deteriorated badly over the same timeframe. Olivo’s a little faster, but he’s also two years older.
Really, the most significant difference between them is that Olivo has a much more pronounced platoon split – Olivo has much better numbers against LHP, but Buck has better numbers against RHP. This makes Olivo the more useful player in a part-time role, and Buck the more useful player in a full-time role. Naturally, the Royals have re-signed the former to a position more appropriate for the latter.
Everyone’s talking about Mark Teahen and David DeJesus on the trade market, but I’m really curious to see if Dayton Moore can move Buck this month, and if so, what he can get in return. I’d rather keep Buck and toss Olivo back, but if you’re going to go with Olivo, then it makes no sense to back him up with the exact same player. Especially since
Pena has hit just .228/.252/.315 in 127 career at-bats over four different seasons, but in the minors he has been a consistent .300 hitter. Literally: going backwards from 2008, his minor league averages are .303, .301, .302, .326, and .314. His career high in home runs is six, but over the last four years he’s hit 76 doubles in just under 1200 at-bats, so he’s not a complete punch-and-judy hitter. He’s an extreme contact hitter who could give Alberto Callaspo a run for his money: over those same four years he has whiffed just 102 times, but also has walked just 94 times. He turns
Perhaps most importantly from a roster management standpoint, Pena’s a switch-hitter. As I’ve written before, he’s kind of like Gregg Zaun, The Practically Perfect Backup Catcher himself, without the walks. Pena would make the perfect backup to Buck, and given Olivo’s struggles against right-handed pitching, I’d argue that Pena should really be in a job-sharing arrangement, getting the start against any right-hander with a good slider or a three-quarters motion. According to Clay Davenport, Pena’s numbers with
The Royals could just go with Olivo and Buck again and play the hot hand like they did last year, but I doubt it. Pena’s out of options, and was added to the 40-man roster after the season. I don’t think
House is a very nice minor-league pickup. He’s already 29 and has just 60 major-league at-bats, but he was once a very-well regarded prospect in the Pirates’ chain, and put up numbers to match. He hit .306/.378/.480 in Triple-A last year, a doppelganger of his career numbers of .310/.372/.496, and just two years ago he hit .345/.392/.521 between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s never gotten a real shot at the majors because 1) he’s considered rough defensively; 2) he was in an organization that didn’t know what the hell it was doing; and 3) I’m guessing that his heart was never 100% in baseball, given that he was a prized quarterback recruit out of high school, and finally gave into temptation after the Pirates released him in 2004, returning to West Virginia and playing as the third-string QB for a year.
House would appear to have football out of his system now, and has had three good seasons in a row in the high minors. He only got the briefest of opportunities at the major league level, despite playing for the Orioles and Astros – check that, because he played for the Orioles (who gave the backup job to Paul Bako in 2007) and Astros (who will probably enshrine Brad Ausmus in the team’s Hall of Fame one day). He’s 29 and his teams have yet to deem him worthy of a regular roster spot in the majors – but then, he has yet to play for a team that knew what the hell it was doing. If you want to take a long-shot gamble on a player who might be the surprise of baseball next season, the Mike Aviles of 2009, put your money on the House.
But for Opening Day, it looks like the Royals’ optimal solution would be to go with a combination of Olivo and Pena, with