Help at catcher: Miguel Olivo

Solid day for Romine in the desert
Yankees talking sense, unlikely to pursue Crawford, Werth
Miguel Olivo ranked second in caught stealing percentage in 2010 (Tony Dejak/AP)

Yesterday was a big day for a number of teams. Anyone who reads MLB Trade Rumors knows that a number of players hit free agency after having their options declined. There are a few interesting names among them, perhaps a few that will draw interest from the Yankees. There’s one name, though, that stands out a bit — if for no other reason than his mention in a recent post about catchers.

I’ll defer to loyal commenter Ross in Jersey, who said: “Rockies released [Miguel] Olivo, go Cash go.” They didn’t technically release him, but rather declined his $2.5 million option for 2011, opting instead to pay him $500,000 to go away. It was the second consecutive year in which a team declined Olivo’s option; after the 2009 season the Royals paid him $100,000 instead of picking up his $3.3 million option. That does sound a bit damning, but in the latest incident, at least, the Rockies might have had reasons beyond Olivo’s performance for the release.

Why would the Yankees want Olivo? Because they have a peculiar catching situation in 2011. Jorge Posada hasn’t started more than 90 games behind the plate since 2007, and might be good for only 70 or so in 2011 — he started just 78 in 2010. That leaves the bulk of the catching duties to Francisco Cervelli, which is not an ideal scenario for the Yankees. Cervelli is certainly passable in a backup role, but his defensive lapses and complete lack of power make him a poor choice to start 90 games.

There is Jesus Montero, but the Yankees can’t really count on him in 2011. He’s just 21 years old and has well-publicized defensive issues. There’s a chance he could break camp with the Yankees and start as many games behind the plate as Posada, acting as a DH otherwise, but that’s not a situation the Yankees can assume. There’s also a chance that they could deal him this off-season. Given these parameters, acquiring another catcher does make sense. But does Olivo fit the bill.

He is basically the anti-Cervelli at the plate, in that he draws basically no walks but hits for plenty of power. His career ISO is .181 and he is coming off a season that equalled that mark. For those concerned that Coors Field inflated his power numbers, he did produce a career-high .241 ISO last year while playing in Kansas City. He has also hit for power at Petco Park, though that was back in 2005. Unfortunately, his OBP leaves much to be desired. In 2010, for the first time in his career, he broke the .300 OBP barrier. But that’s less of an issue for a part-time catcher and No. 9 hitter.

On defense it appears he’s a mixed bag. He’s prone to lapses, as he’s led the league in passed balls in four of the last five years. But otherwise he seems just fine. John Dewan’s +/- rates him highly — he led the league in Defensive Runs Saved by a long shot this past season. Tom Tango’s Fan Scouting Reports also rates him favorably. Olivo can certainly throw out runners as well. Last year 42 percent of base stealers headed back to the dugout, second best in the majors (again by a long shot). His career rate is 35 percent, which is 379th all-time and 12th among active players. In other words, while he does let a few too many balls get by him, he compensates in other areas.

No, Olivo is not a perfect fit should the Yankees need a catcher in 2011. Then again, there likely isn’t an available catcher who can hit, field, and accept a less than full-time role. Olivo is one of a few catchers who has enough positives going for him that the Yankees could use him to start 70, 80 games if need be. Chances are they won’t get him, though, as a number of teams need starting catchers. But should he remain on the free agent block while the Yankees take care of big business, they could certainly find use for him.

Solid day for Romine in the desert
Yankees talking sense, unlikely to pursue Crawford, Werth
  • Rebecca-Optimist Prime-Mrs. OBP Jesus Maquinito

    Ross says it well.

    Go Cash, go!

  • Tom Zig

    All I want for Christmas is a catcher who can throw baserunners out.

    Well ok not the only thing.

    • the tenth inning stretch

      Cliff Lee, Miguel Olivo, and a full season of Montero…is that too much to ask?

  • Bill Style

    sign me up

  • vin

    Once I saw Ross’ comment earlier today, all I was reminded of was this:


    • king of fruitless hypotheticals

      oh, that’s gonna leave a mark one some dumb fan!

      where would this leave Cervelli? Romine?

  • JGS

    I’m all for it if the price is right. Does 1/$2M do it? Any higher than $3M and I say pass.

  • ZZ

    Remember how frustrated you guys were with Cervelli after May?

    You should have seen the stuff Rockies fans were saying about Olivo the 2nd half of the season. You guys got nothing on them.

    .193/.225/.313 Post ASB.

    • whozat

      yeah, but he has a career track record that tells a more reliable story. And, also…that record indicates that he’s a plus defensive catcher — not just a plus-defensive-catcher-compared-to-Posada-and-Montero.

      • ZZ

        Mostly that comment was in jest.

        Anyway in response to what you are saying on a serious note, saying he his a plus defensive catcher based on his track record depends on how you evaluate catcher defense and what you emphasize.

        The answer is not clear, because while he has a very strong arm, he has been very poor behind the plate since he was called up to the big leagues and has shown little to no improvement in his ability to keep the ball in front of him.

    • FIPster Doofus

      Both Posada and Cervelli were so deficient behind the plate in 2010 that I’d willingly sacrifice some offense for top-quality defense at the catcher position next season. Besides, it’s not as if the Yankees are hard up for offense; let the other eight hitters pick up the slack at the plate while Olivo subs.

      • ZZ

        I’m not positive you are going to be saying that when you are watching Olivo a few times a week.

        Too add to my comment above, it is also not just the passed balls. He had 9 errors this year which stems mostly from him getting reckless behind the plate at times.

        • FIPster Doofus

          “I’m not positive you are going to be saying that when you are watching Olivo a few times a week.”

          Heh, I might not be. Seeing other teams run at will on the Yankees is extremely frustrating, though, and at least Olivo has shown an ability to quell that – much more than the Posada/Cervelli tandem, anyway.

          The key thing here is that Olivo has to come cheap; otherwise no thanks. And I think he’ll be able to find more playing time and money elsewhere, so this is all likely to be moot.

          • Ted Nelson

            Small sample sizes work both ways. Yes, Olivo has a longer track record, but Cervelli is as likely to be better than his short track record as worse. Cervelli threw out runners very well in the minors. Better than Olivo (41% v. 35%). I would say there’s a good chance he comes around in that department. He has only 53 MiLB games about A-ball, so if that argument works for Joba it should also work for Cervelli… The Yankees ruined Cervelli’s development, blah blah, waw waw…

            Since not only Jorge and Cervelli, but also Moeller struggled to throw out base-stealers (Moeller’s sample is almost irrelevant, I know… but he only got 1 of 6) with the Yankees it may well have been the staff and/or a strategic decision to let guys run.

  • Hughesus Christo

    He’ll go somewhere where they don’t have “two starters” and 19 prime C prospects waiting to usurp him. Pretty sure.

  • art vandelay

    just dont let him catch AJ …. oh boy. pass ball city ! and olivio is the mayor !

  • http://www.donthaveone AnthonyMichael

    He was somewhat decent in clutch situations. Then in the last two months of the season, he bombed it.

  • mbonzo

    Does anyone think Montero is unfairly criticized for his catching skills? I have seen a few videos, I am by far no expert, but how well would he compare to other catchers at 20? It seems that because his bat is so advanced and MLB ready, they assume his catching should be too. Do people actually think that a 20 year old catcher can’t improve his fielding ability? Again I am not saying that he’ll be Pudge behind the plate, but isn’t it a little too early to say that he’ll be a terrible catcher?

    • Benjamin Kabak

      I’m bearish on Montero’s catching ability so I might be the wrong one to answer this question. That said, every single scout seems to think his defense has a long way to go and may force him out from behind the plate. It’s tough to argue against a consensus. He’ll improve, but will it be enough?

      • jim p

        Is it selective memory, or didn’t he backup fairly well, including like a 27% or so caught-stealing, in 2009? Or was that just a lucky streak, and constant play revealed his quality. Can he revert/improve?

        • jim p

          Reply fail. Meant for your 1:06 am (ET) post. immediately following.

        • Nostra-Artist

          People throw out CS% as if it’s the best way to judge a Catcher defensively, and it’s not. As we all know you steal on the pitcher as much as the Catcher, so he may have just benefited from a staff that did a good job holding runners on, or more likely, his manager only used Montero facing teams that didn’t run well. In general, CS% for individual catchers vary greatly from year to year, which tells you (as with other stats like RISP) that’s its an unreliable indicator.

          Also, don’t look at Cervelli’s 2010 CS% rate and think he forgot how to catch. He threw out 46% in 2009, and then 18% this year. Much of that is due to being AJ Burnett’s personal Catcher.

          For a good run down of the problems with evaluating Catcher defense, read this. It’s one of the few areas of the game that defy statistical evaluation, due toi it’;s two sided nature. You just have to trust your eyes and/or the opinion of those who see him everyday, unfortunately.

          • Ted Nelson

            I think the point, though, of the first comment is that the people who see him everyday might be influenced by his advanced offensive skills (and therefore quick progression through the minors, especially for a C) and forget that he’s a 20 year old C in AAA. You look at him against other top AAA Cs, and they’re a whole lot older. If he were in college or A-ball like most 20 year old Cs, would people be so critical of his defense? (Critical still, maybe, but so critical?) Guys like Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, Tyler Flowers… they are 23 or 24 in AAA. When Flowers was 20 he was in rookie ball. Posey wasn’t playing pro ball at 20. Carlos Santana split the season between rookie and A ball. Even Joe Mauer wasn’t in AAA at 20.

    • Esteban

      I think it also has to do with his size. He’s 6’4″ and listed at 225 lbs and apparently doesn’t have the athleticism of Joe Mauer (who’s also tall). I would love to be wrong, and I hope I am, but I doubt (based on every scouting report, but without having watched him play) he’ll stick for long as a catcher at the ML level.

      • CP

        At this point he doesn’t have to stick for long – just one year. Then reevaluate his performance every year….

    • Mr. Sparkle

      I actually heard a scout on WFAN that said Montero’s defensive woes were blown way out of proportion and that he’s not that bad. Of course, that’s only one guy but enough to make you wonder. It wouldn’t be the first time the media and fans have taken the easy way out and succumb to group think.

  • Benjamin Kabak

    Cervelli is certainly passable in a backup role, but his defensive lapses and complete lack of power make him a poor choice to start 90 games.

    Repeated for emphasis and truth.

    To be fair to Cervelli though, his .360 OBP makes him an intriguing back-up if he could get his defensive act together. He’s never going to hit for power so if he can figure out how to sit still, stop fist-pumping and throw runners out, he’d be a fine, low-cost back up.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      If Cervelli stops fist-pumping, well, damnit, I don’t want him anymore.

  • ZZ

    Keep in mind that when he signed for $2.5 million guaranteed (including the buyout he just received), the word coming out of Colorado was that he turned down higher offers to play for them.

    He is not coming cheap and his price tag will very likely make him a non-option for the Yankees from the start.

    • bexarama

      We can debate about whether he’s good offensively/defensively or not, but for me, yeah, it comes down to this too. Olivo is at least sort of a “name,” especially because some people think Greinke’s 2009 was at least partially due to him (yay personal catchers :/). I can’t see him coming cheap, and I don’t know if he’s even willing to come here if he’s not starting.

  • ZZ

    Olivo doesn’t even have mental lapses or get lazy or whatever. He just has awful technique at trying to keep the ball in front of him.

    I think when he came up to the big leagues and had passed ball issues right away he said something like I’m afraid to get my fingers broken.

    It is very frustrating and strange to watch.

    • Nostra-Artist

      Sounds correctable, but all too often it just doesn’t happen. Much of Posada’s bad defensive rep is due to poor technique, and after all these years it’s just never seemed to change. He still reacts like an infielder back there on blocking the plate and the high fastball.

  • Matt DiBari

    I still think Posada starting 78 games this year has more to do with Girardi falling in love with Cervelli than Posada being unable to play. I don’t think he’s a 130 game catcher or anything anymore, but I also don’t think he’s the backup catcher they made him this year either.

    • Avi

      Totally disagree. You think Girardi actually liked Cervelli more than Posada??
      The reason he caught only 78 games is because he physically can’t handle more. His throwing shoulder has been surgically repaired multiple times. After every game he has the “Michelin Man” wrap around his shoulder to ice it down. You always see it on the postgame stuff.
      I’m sure other parts of his body hurt him too but the shoulder seems to be the biggest factor.

      • Matt DiBari

        I don’t know if Girardi likes Cervelli more than Posada. I think he saw a lot more in Cervelli than anyone else did. I think based on Posada’s whining on and off during the season that he was capable of catching a lot more than he did.

        • Nostra-Artist

          I think he saw a lot more in Cervelli than anyone else who never played Catcher did.

          Fixed that for ya.

        • CP

          If you look at the way it broke down during the season, Posada caught a lot more games than Cervelli when he was healthy and the team had a primary DH.

        • Ted Nelson

          A lot of times player’s pride gets in the way of what’s best for the team. Maybe Posada *could have* caught more games, but maybe he gets injured in those games or just generally wears down before the post-season. As long as the Yankees manage to make the post-season, which they did, they care a lot more about having the best team once it starts.

          The whole Yankees organization seems to be high on Cervelli as a back-up. I know this is an imperfect measure, but he came up through the same system where people make excuses for Romine and Montero throwing out 15-20% of runners and he threw out 40%. Girardi and the org might not have seen anything more in Cervelli’s 2010 season, just have seen more previously to suggest he was going to improve. An OPS+ of 88 even from your starting catcher is nothing to scoff at, so I can’t really say that Cervelli hurt the team overall this season.

      • mbonzo

        First off, Posada shouldn’t catch any games anymore. 78 was 78 too many. The only reason he caught that many was because of his bat. He should be a full time DH next year.

        Second, Cervelli had a good season hitting. He may have gotten cold by posting .271/.359 is good for a backup catcher. The Yankees have so much pop in their lineup, we can take a little average over homerun total from some players. As for defense, there is nothing that says that his 2010 as a backstop is nothing more than an outlier. He had plus defense last year and was consistent with his minor league numbers.

        I was as frustrated as anyone with his mid-year performance, but thats what happens when you turn your backup catcher in to a starting catcher mid year. Notice that as soon as Posada was back in the last few month doing regular catching Cervelli was having 4-4 days. I don’t think Olivo is worth another roster spot this year when we’re gonna need some serious help with the aging infielders. For an organization that has 4 highly regarded catchers coming up, and 2 already on the team, this is the least of the Yankees concern.

  • Avi

    I’d take Olivo. We certainly need someone that can throw out a base runner.
    Isn’t Jose Molina a free agent?

    • Tom Zig

      Nope. His option for 2011 was picked up by the Blue Jays.

      Side note:

      I’d like to think that Cervelli improves his defense for next year. He was at one point the best defensive catcher in the Yankee organization. I know that doesn’t tell you a lot but it’s something. I imagine the coaching staff will be working hard with him this offseason. If he does become a plus defender like I thought he would, that’s a pretty good asset. People (myself included) tend to forget he’s only 24, which is still pretty young. He’s only played in 209 games at catcher in the minors, which is less than Montero and way less than Posada ever had. My point being that he didn’t have a significant amount of time to work on his defense. The majors isn’t a good place for on the job training either.

      • Nostra-Artist

        Yeah, some of Cervelli’s problems defensively were weird plays that he reacted badly to. For his first year of catching full time in the bigs, I’ll give him a pass and expect better things next year.

    • Ted Nelson

      Since none of the Yankees Cs could throw out a baserunner, I’m inclined to believe it might have been the pitching staff… Cervelli threw out 41% of basestealers in the minors and 43% in 2009. Did he suddenly forget how to pop-and-throw?

  • candyforstalin

    frankie says relax. don’t do it.

  • kosmo

    Torrealba !

  • Sal

    Yanks shouldn’t mess around they need a real bridge to Montero/Romine. If
    Boston signs Crawford lookout, they’ll take the Texas Tampa Bay blueprint and run with it. I don’t know about you guys but I’m tired of watching guys like Andrus walk and end up on third base with easy steals. Look into John Buck or V-Mart would be even better. Martinez has improved, and will do so even more under the tutelage of Tony Pena. If Lee and Jeter really want to win they shouldn’t pick the budget clean. The only drawback in V-Mart is my original conception of him eventually platooning at DH/catcher/first base, but if ARod has to move to DH that clouds the V-Mart concept. The Marlins are gonna gram Olivo anyway, plan B after Buck and V-Mart, is Torrealba he’s also a type B FA

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Virtually none of this makes any sense.

    • Double-J

      Would you like some coffee, Mr. Tully?

    • JAG

      You’re upset about runners going wild on the bases vs. the Yankees and your solution is….Victor Martinez? Are we talking about the same V-Mart? He’s worse than Posada back there. No thank you.

  • larryf

    A big answer to the Yankee catching issues will be Cliff Lee and his personal catcher Jesus Montero. Pinpoint control, no walks, few baserunners and very few steals.

    I have seen Montero catch 3 games at Scranton and sat by the Yankee on deck circle. He moved well, caught well and threw well. He is not Johnny Bench back there but he did hit like Johnny. Cervelli will improve and mature-it is the usual course of things.

    Nobody looks good trying to catch AJ’s 55 foot curveballs!

    I don’t want Olivo.

  • http://deleted Richard Deegan

    I wonder if Jesus would be as big a mess as a defensive catcher at 21 as Yogi was. There was serious talk of Yogi being exclusively in the OF (save the bat) until they talked Bill Dickey into working intensively with Yogi on his behind-the-plate skills. Even then it was a few rough years until fans would feel really comfortable with Yogi behind the plate. So what is Tony Peña, chopped liver? Has he forgotten all he knew about catching? He can’t tutor Jesus in the bigs?
    As to age, Ellie Howard started to learn catching at 24 (although he may have done some catching in the service at 23), but still spent most of his early years in the OF-1B. For those who never saw him, Ellie was no slouch defensively.

    • larryf

      Butch Wynegar was Montero’s coach this year. I talked to him after a game and he was high on Montero as a catcher. Sure he needs work but Posada wasn’t even a catcher at 20/21. As for size/quickness, Jesus is not as tall as Mauer or Weiters so what is the big deal? Neither one of those guys are quick.

    • Ted Nelson

      Richard, I don’t think you realize that if baseball america, ESPN, and a couple of scouts say something they can never, ever possibly have any chance of being wrong. The consensus is clearly infallible and groupthink should always prevail. Even if posters here have never seen Montero catch, they should believe everything they hear. Even though he is 20, he can never get better. (That’s all sarcastic…)

  • Jonathan

    I saw him in KC plenty of times and it’s pretty much mistake power and a good arm. That is all you get with him. He’s an atrocious receiver and doesn’t block pitches at all. At the plate he’s just a massive hacker who kills mistakes. That has its value and there is no perfect answer but just know that what most people say about him is very true and you know what you’re getting.

    • larryf

      This. Less HR’s in Yankee Stadium. Thames hit 12 and we’d be lucky to get 10 out of this guy. Sado and Montero will combine for 20-easily.

  • China Joe

    Hopefully the Yankees lit a fire under Montero’s ass and he comes to spring training in shape. It seemed like they were angry at his conditioning last year, and that can seriously hurt his chances sticking behind the plate.

  • Chris

    “He’s prone to lapses, as he’s led the league in past balls in four of the last five years.”

    Pass. I don’t want a guy who is as sound behind the plate as Montero, with less of a bat catching AJ. Every other pitch would be a past ball. That would not help at all. If there is going to be a player in the Yankee lineup behind the plate that has issues it better be Montero and not some guy on a one year deal.

    • Ross in Jersey

      The whole point of signing Olivo is to have a stopgap to ease the transition from Posada to Montero/Romine. Do you really want to just throw Montero into the fire without a backup option? Or would you rather keep seeing Cervelli and his zero tools catching 70 games?

      • JerseyDutch

        Fist pumping doesn’t count as a tool? C’mon…

      • Ted Nelson

        Defense isn’t a tool? Patience at the plate isn’t a tool? I don’t really care if Cervelli catches 70 games if the Yankees make the post-season. If you want to argue that Posada should be catching less games and Montero should be in AAA, then the Yankees need a starter and I can agree.

  • Yank the Frank

    Olivo doesn’t sound like the answer, just more of the problem.

  • Ross in Jersey

    Hopefully Olivo wouldn’t be too expensive. He has issues, the passed balls would probably be very frustrating if the Yankees end up signing him. The main things I like about him is his ability to throw out runners (which Cervelli and Posada are woefully bad at, if you think it’s only AJ’s fault you’re kidding yourself) and pop the occasionally home run. He’s not the perfect solution, but we’re only talking about a year-long stopgap here.

    Cervelli has no business catching 70+ games on this team. None. His defense is bad in all aspects and his bat is worse. I’d rather have a catcher who hits a bi-monthly homer than a bi-monthly 5 hopper through the infield. If Olivo can pop the occasional home run and make teams think twice about running wild on the bases, he’s earned his money.

    • JB

      Ross – I respect your opinions and comments, but I think your really exagerating a bit here.. To say his defense is bad in all aspects is just silly. Cervelli is a quality backup and has very good receiving/blocking skills. Throwing runners out is only a part of being a good catcher, and the pitching staff has alot to do with that. For a #8 or #9 hitter, he would be serviceable and may continue to have a decent obp.

      I would be fine with keeping Cervelli and Posada splitting the catching role while trying to see if Montero is ready to enter the picture. Who knows – by mid-year, he could be the starting catcher.

      Alot of people seem to think Tony Pena could have alot of influence on Olivo. While I respect Tony Pena, what influence has he had on Posada or Cervelli? Posada is a terrible blocker technique-wise, so what has he listened to? I think Cervelli has gained alot from him and his technique seems very sound. And if the pitchers try just a little bit, I think Cervelli can throw runners out at a decent %. What would make you think Olivo would gain anything, or listen to anything Pena has to say? Reading in between the lines, it sounds to me like there may be an attitude issue there as well.

      I’ll pass on Olivo and split Posada/Cervelli while giving Montero a shot. Saves some $$ as well.

      just my 2 cents..

      • Ted Nelson

        Also, Ross, to ignore Cervelli’s track record of throwing out 41% of runners in the minors and 43% in 2009 and just say that because of one season on a team where no C managed to throw out runners catching a lot of his innings with AJ Burnett that Cervelli can’t throw out runners and Olivo (who only threw out 35% of runners in the minors) is way better??????

  • MattG

    “Chances are they won’t get him, though, as a number of teams need starting catchers”

    The Yankees’ need at catcher is too small, relative to other teams, and their needs in other areas too great. This won’t happen.

    • Ross in Jersey

      The 2 million dollars it’ll likely take to sign him also means less to the Yankees than it does to other teams. There’s always a chance.

    • Clay Bellinger

      Agreed. With the combination of Posada still catching quite a few games and a young catcher just about ready to step it, Olivo would be foolish not to look at other options that offer more playing time for him.

      Also, Montero just spent an entire year at AAA and had a sucessful season. It’s hard to see him staying there for another year. Why would the Yanks create such a logjam at one position? As much as people don’t like Cervi around here, it’s not like he’s John Flaherty. No power, but he gets his hits. He’d be just fine in the decreased role that he’s expected to have.

  • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

    Ross In Jersey gettin’ the name drop! Yeah, boyyyyy.

  • Girtin

    As a Yankees fan in Colorado, I had the pleasure of watching many a Rockies game this year.

    Olivo is servicable behind the plate, but with a bat, he’s essentially Jose Molina. Look at his 2nd half splits. Awful.

  • felixE

    Posada-Cervelli-Montero is fine for 2011.

  • mike c

    jorgesus/cervelli ’11

  • turko

    Thre Yankees should try to sign Yorvit Torrealba. He declined his option with the Padres. He is a decent hitter and a good defensive catcher.

  • KAnst

    My choice for backup catcher is David Ross, one of the highest caught stealing percentages in baseball. Used to being a backup catcher. Little bit of pop, good patience. Hes my personal choice

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