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December 7, 2010 at 9:19 PM

Mariners decision on catcher could spell trouble for second-year player Adam Moore

Lots of talk, but little action so far for the Mariners, who have been linked to just about every second, third and fourth-rate free agent or available trade commodity in MLB so far at the winter meetings. We’ve heard names like Hideki Matsui, Jack Cust, Mark Hendrickson, Rich Harden and Jorge Cantu.
Them came the real knee-slappers: Miguel Olivo (Photo Credit: AP) and Luis Valbuena.
Once the laughter dies down, there is an argument to be made for both players. A thin one in many cases, but an argument nonetheless.
I’m not as intrigued by the Valbuena rumors as I am by the ones involving Olivo. A source told me tonight that Mariners manager Eric Wedge was very fond of Valbuena when he had him in Cleveland in 2009. Wedge was the guy who gave Valbuena the starting second baseman’s job and Valbuena responded by hitting 10 homers and producing an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) greater than .700. Not bad for a first-year major leaguer playing the middle infield.
The source told me Wedge would love to get Valbuena back, especially since the Indians aren’t exactly enamored with him these days. He’s been playing winter ball lately and the asking price shouldn’t be all that high.
But for me, whether or not Valbuena comes back as a second base stopgap for Dustin Ackley means little to the other players already on the team.
Not so with Olivo.
When the meetings first began, we heard the Mariners were interested in talking to veteran catcher Gregg Zaun, 39, a guy who has wanted to play in Seattle for several years now. It was thought that the M’s would set up a meeting Monday or Tuesday to meet with Zaun’s representative.
As of an hour ago, that had yet to happen. It’s almost midnight here, so we’ll assume that means these talks with Olivo might be somewhat serious.
To me, that could spell trouble for second year catcher Adam Moore.
Here’s why. Zaun would be a backup and emergency stopgap for Moore in case he runs into similar problems the way he did last year. At most, Zaun has a year or two left in the majors and has done this sort of mentoring before, He did it in Baltimore with Matt Wieters and in Tampa Bay with Dioner Navarro for a brief time before taking on the same role in Milwaukee last season.
That’s his role now. He’s come to accept it, even though, as a switch-hitter, he can still play every day when push comes to shove. He won’t be looking to break the bank.
But with Olivo, you’ve got a guy who has been an everyday catcher before and who is coming off seasons of 394 and 390 at-bats respectively. He’s still only 32, so you’d have to assume he’d be looking for regular playing time. Also for a deal that extends beyond just one season. His numbers last year, with a .269 average and a .764 OPS weren’t exactly horrible for a catcher, even if he played home games at Coors Field.
Yes, I can read home/away splits and can also see how poorly Olivo hit at Safeco Field when he played here for a couple of years until 2005.
But does he see things that way?

Players coming off decent numbers years usually won’t give discounts away this early in the process to teams bidding for their services. We saw how long Russell Branyan held out last winter before settling for his deal with the Indians.
So, if Olivo comes back, will he settle for a backup role behind Moore?
Because for those saying this is a big year for Moore to prove himself, having Olivo as the No. 1 catcher doesn’t seem the way to do it. Yeah, this could be a tough love approach, where the team tells Moore, hey, we love you man, but you know, love only carries you so far.
In other words, maybe they force Moore to earn playing time. Or maybe they ship him down to Class AAA to take advantage of his remaining minor league options.
Either way, it’s not the greatest development if you’re Moore. It’s a sign — an admission of sorts — that the once touted “can’t miss” catcher might indeed be in danger of missing. Yeah, it’s still early, but not THAT early. Moore came up late in 2009 and then had two extended stints with the club last year in which he flat-out couldn’t hit big league pitching.
Some have assumed that Moore would get all of 2011 to prove himself, but maybe that’s a false assumption. As we’ve been writing since last summer, Moore was not a Jack Zduriencik draft pick. He was a Bill Bavasi guy. And those guys had to “audition” for the new GM and front office last season.
Michael Saunders was in a similar boat when he first came up in 2009. As we’ve told you, he nearly got traded last winer.
One thing Zduriencik has shown is that he’s not shy about making early calls on prospects he did not cull. Zduriencik isn’t even all that patient with his own, handpicked prospects. So, the assumption that Moore would have all of 2011 to work his way into MLB always seemed a bit of a stretch.
But if Olivo signs with Seattle? That almost seems like a confirmation that Seattle’s front office has largely made up their mind about Moore already and are just waiting for him to confirm it with more on-field struggles.
Of course, the M’s won’t sell it that way. They’ll talk about locking up two years of a proven mentor who can show Moore the right way to be a major leaguer. And that, with the M’s rebuilding, it won’t matter whether Moore plays every day in 2011.
That may be true to an extent.
But it’s a different story than what we were hearing a year ago.
Moore’s stock with this team appears to have taken a hit. How big a hit, we’ll know once the M’s decide on their veteran catcher. If it’s Olivo, then Moore had best be prepared to hit the ground running this time around.
If not, Moore could soon vanish from memory faster than you can say “Rene Rivera”.



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