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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 11, 2012 at 10:09 AM

Another way to solve logjam of position players: Catch Montero more

monteroswings.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Mariners should hope that Chone Figgins keeps performing well, because it might make him a desirable trade chip. And clearing Figgins out of the lineup would ease Eric Wedge’s pending problem of finding playing time for all the young position players the Mariners need to find playing time for.

Realistically, however, that’s not going to happen for awhile, because Figgins needs to play well over an extended stretch to convince teams that he’s a guy they need for the stretch drive. The Mariners are going to face the issue of getting at-bats for Mike Carp, Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders much sooner than that, provided that Carp and Franklin Gutierrez don’t have setbacks in their recoveries from injury.

Geoff suggested that Wedge could find playing time for Seager by spotting him at shortstop. That’s valid, considering Ryan’s health issues, his offensive issues, and the fact that Wedge saw the need to bench Ryan for a game for accountability issues.

But it seems to me that another method by which the Mariners could help ease the logjam is via the catcher position. Dave Cameron over at USS Mariner has a devastating takedown of Miguel Olivo today. He makes a lot of strong points about why Olivo’s playing time should be on the wane. Can’t argue with most of it, because I’ve been thinking many of the same thoughts. Olivo, despite leading the team in homers and RBIs last year (much more a reflection of the Mariners’ offense than Olivo’s prowess) ranked 144th out of 145 qualified players in the majors with his .253 on-base percentage (ahead of only Vernon Wells at .248). And a week into this season, he ranks 190th — dead last — at .125, tied with James Loney of the Dodgers, who still doesn’t have a hit. The point is, Olivo is not doing much for you offensively, despite his ability to crank one out of the park occasionally.

I give Olivo credit for calling a good game (or so I’m told), and for doing a good job controlling the running game, and I think he offers some intangibles as far as leadership (I can see Dave cringing in North Carolina and yelling at his computer, “How about showing some leadership by blocking a ball in the dirt?”). In other words, I don’t think Olivo is completely without assets. But there’s no denying his problems with the most essential duty of a catcher: Receiving the ball. Or his hitting woes.

I’d sure like to see John Jaso, who not long ago looked like a rising prospect, catch some games. But more to the point, I’d like to see Jesus Montero catch some games. A lot more games.

The word from the Mariners this spring was that Montero was not the disaster defensively that he he had been billed, that he had the potential to be a passable receiver. So why not accelerate the process of his development behind the plate? Considering Olivo’s defensive issues, would it be a huge dropoff? The only way Montero is going to get better is by playing, and they might as well find out now if he’s their catcher of the future. Not every day, but a few times a week. And by taking Montero out of the DH spot, it would open it up for the likes of Carp — no defensive whiz himself — or Seager or whomever (Casper Wells, Alex Liddi, Vinnie Catricala, Carlos Peguero when he recovers from knee surgery). Olivo is at the stage of his career where he’s more suited to a backup role than being the every-day guy.

Seems like a win-win to me.

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