Monday, December 1, 2008


In anticipation of what I hope will be a news-worthy month, and with the Winter Meetings just a week away, let’s start cleaning house on the smaller-print news items of the past two months.

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-7 in attempts) as he was to accept one as charity.

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 Moore shrewdly snagged Brayan Pena off waivers from his former employer.

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 27 in January, and if he gets regular playing time I could see him approximating what Johnny Estrada did for the Braves in his late 20s.

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 Omaha this year translate to a line of .246/.313/.375 in the majors. Not great, but not bad, and if the Royals can combine that line against RHP with Olivo’s typical line against LHP, they’d have themselves a pretty nice combination behind the plate.

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 Moore has spent this much time trying to snatch Pena from the Braves, and keep him around, just so that he can waive him next March. Plus, the Royals just signed J.R. House to do the catching in Omaha next year.

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 Moore hopefully turning Buck into some useful talent elsewhere. (Buck, at the very least, would be one of the better backup catchers in the game, and the upside that he has a late-career emergency a la Mike Stanley or something is still there.) I just feel that the optimal solution for the Royals was to avoid the path with Olivo that they’ve already ventured down.


RickMcKC said...

I had the exact same thought about House - maybe he's the Aviles of 09 ... more importantly, we finally have some real options at catcher for the first time in a long time. I like what DM is doing with this team.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree, Rany. When I heard that Olivo signed based on a promise to be the "number one catcher," I wondered if DM was pulling one over on him. I mean, he could claim that Olivo was the number one guy if he had one or two more starts than Buck, right?

But I don't see Olivo as an everyday catcher at all.

Mr. Peepers said...

So why in the world did Tupman resign yesterday? To be the backup in Omaha?

Also, Pena couldn't last as the backup in Atlanta, blocked by the LaRue-like duo of Clint Sammons and Corky Miller.

Anonymous said...

Wow, we definitely do have catching depth now. Question is, are any of them any good? Some have potential, and some we all know suck.

Keith Law said...

Olivo was a no-compensation player (that is, NOT a Type B). I'm looking at the official list as I write this.

Anonymous said...

Rany, the problem with extrapolating stats is that Buck is obviously declining in every phase of the game, as big white guys who are glacially slow tend to do. Olivo is at least holding steady if not improving, and things happen when he hits the ball. Reality is/was that the Royals cannot do another full season with Slow John behind the plate and expect to improve substantially. The wonder was that any teams left runners NOT stealing with SJ behind the plate. More importantly, Olivo was the third-best available catcher this year - behind Pudge and Varitek. Which made him by far the best option in the Royals' price range. When we analyzed the Olivo signing at Unknownroyalsfan, we took that into account, and acknowledged that his role might be to groom Pena this season. At the time, we didn't have House. Trade Buck? Sure. Hopefully for a new, rather than used, bag of baseballs.

Anonymous said...

There will be no market for Buck. He's a nice guy and a good clubhouse presence but he offers little on the field. I didn't see this discussed but Buck does call a good game. I've seen pitchers give him credit for that. My guess is he goes somewhere for a player to be determined or cash.

Anonymous said...

You make a strong case about Olivo but I have to tell you I'm glad he's staying. I went to 20+ games last year and while his numbers may equate to Buck's I got the feeling that his hits were more 'clutch'. Not very scientific I know but especially early in the year he was mashing the ball.

Just like Mark Teahen I appreciate Buck as a person and clubhouse presence, but I just don't see a fit for him now that there are some other options. I agree with Unknownroyalsfan - I don't think there would be much out there.

Anonymous said...

Mike Jacobs used to catch in the minors, right? If he can still do so, a Jacobs/Olivo platoon could be near the top of the league in offensive production at catcher. That would make room for Shealy or Kila or Shealy/Kila at 1B.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious! Olivo and Buck's crappy OBP is kosher, yet, Jacobs is villified for his low OBP. 2+2=5 I guess.

Anonymous said...

Rany, you pretty much already have the reason they kept Olivo right in front of you: He can actually throw out base stealers. DM has stated on many occasions that he's a student of John Schurholtz, and prefers pitching and defense over all else. Throwing out baserunners = defense.

Anonymous said...

"Rany, the problem with extrapolating stats is that Buck is obviously declining in every phase of the game, as big white guys who are glacially slow tend to do."

lol, ya, guys entering their prime years decline in every aspect of the game all of the time.

Hey, Miguel Olivo put up a 72 OPS+ when he was 28 and allowed more stolen bases than he ever had before. Guess he was in decline too.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 1:20 pm,

2 + 2 = 4
1B /= C

Mac said...

I pretty much agree on your evaluation of our C situation. However I think turning Greinke or someone into a more long term prospect behind the dish, maybe a Teagarden or Max Ramirez in Texas (which would be a mutually beneficial trade) should still be a goal for DM.

Not many teams have a wealth of catching talent in their system, the Rangers are a team that do, and we have the pieces to move that they need. It should be a match made in heaven, I wonder why it hasn't even been bandied about at all...

Anonymous said...

To Nathan- Fuck you.

Anonymous said...

Why do I get the feeling that Pena and House will be better than Oliva and Buck this year?

Anonymous said...

Awww, Anonymous 1:20, lighten up. That response from Nathan was golden.

Olivo is not ideal but I'll take him over Buck. The lack of FA options make it a good signing to me.


Anonymous said...

It hasn't been bandied about because trading Greinke is the absolute worst thing Dayton could do, especially if he only gets "prospects" in return.

Greinke is a 25 year old pitcher who had a good year last year, and much more is expected of him as he enters his prime. You don't trade guys like him, ever. Remember David Cone? Young, stud pitcher that we traded to the Mets...and got a catcher, Ed Hearn, in return? Yeah, how'd that work out?

We absolutely, positively, have to get him signed long term. Whether its this offseason, during the season, next offseason, etc. doesn't matter. It has to be done.

Anonymous said...

Agreed: Trading Greinke should only occur if he tells the Royals where to go when/if they make a market-value offer on a long-term deal.

Anonymous said...

Olivo is better than Buck. He seemed to improve last year and Buck hasn't done anything that could be considered improving in 3+ years. I just want change at this point. Change not named LaRue.

For godsakes Trey, if you have a catcher who can hit (at least in streaks) why the hell are you still playing Buck? How many times did Olivo DH last season? Has anyone ever seen that before? Stupid.

Given that C is the position where lack of offense is most forgiven, why would we DH our backup C who plays better defense than our starting C?

If our backup C hits well enough to DH for the team and plays better defense than the starting C, shouldn't he be the starting C?

I think a strong dose of Common Sense is in order for Hillman.

I'm guessing we eat half of Buck's salary to trade him for a PTBNL. Or release him outright. His days in KC are over.

Anonymous said...

Jay, there's more to defense than throwing out baserunners. Calling a good game, blocking pitches in the dirt, etc. The fact that Hillman put Buck behind the plate whenever both he and Olivo were in the game says that his assessment of their defense differs from yours. Nothing more.

Now... using your backup catcher as a DH IS a troubling development: but it says more about the other DH options than it does about John Buck or Miguel Olivo.

Antonio. said...

Greinke has basically told the Royals where to go. The plus side is that there's plenty of time to maximize his value. The question is, is it now or does he improve enough in 2009 to make up for losing a year for the team that obtains him.

And something happened to Cone after he became a Met. In trading Cone, the Royals may have mis-scouted him, but they saw a power reliever. I wouldn't necessarily trade a power reliever for a back-up catcher, but it's not like he was inarguably a top prospect in the game at the time.

Anonymous said...


I think the question is more than just whether Grienke will improve in 2009 enough to enhance his trade value. First of all, it isn't completely outside the realm of possibility that the Royals will compete either next year or in 2010, both years when they could benefit from his services. Rotation anchors are hard to come by, and trading him now would effectively scuttle our chances in those seasons. Even if Zack doesn't want to stay in KC long-term, that doesn't automatically mean we have to trade him. Look at the successful teams around baseball: do they usually trade away 25-yr-old studs with two years of service time left? There's a reason they don't.

Secondly, even if we do decide to trade him, waiting until the trade deadline may enhance the return even if his effectiveness doesn't change from last year. Teams looking to add a starter at the deadline would still be getting more than a rental, and they'd also have the incentive of the playoff run.

I doubt we would be able to get significantly more for Grienke in the trade market today than we could in June. Plus, by keeping him, we get a chance to wait and see if it's realistic to win with him in '09 or '10. For these reasons, I'll be very disappointed if the Royals trade him this offseason.

Antonio. said...

Those teams also don't have the Royals history, the Royals current farm system. There's not enough in this organization to make the Royals long term contenders. At best, they're looking at a couple of seasons of contention.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see the relevance of the Royals' history. Certainly it won't be relevant once they start winning.

As for long-term contention, that's built through the draft and international scouting. We may not be the Rays just yet, and I anxiously await Kevin Goldstein's analysis for details, but I don't get the impression that our minor league system is especially bereft of talent compared to others around baseball. I don't think trading Grienke now is the only way to compete beyond 2011.

Look, if we can get somebody like Ryan Braun, go for it. But I don't want to trade Grienke just because "it's time" and "we're the Royals." We've seen where that approach gets us.

buy viagra said...

I think that he could claim that Olivo was the number one guy if he had one or two more starts than Buck, right?