Mariners Analysis

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Olerud signs with Yanks

So it's official, John signs with the Yankees. If you are a Yanks fan, it's pretty obvious why they went after him. With the M's responsible for the majority of Olerud's salary, having to only pay the minimum for the rest of the year, the Yanks get him for a song. With Giambi out an undetermined time for now at least, only having Tony Clark at 1st was not comforting. So, the Yanks get a veteran first basemen who can still play good defense, and won't get overwhelmed playing in the big apple.

The not so obvious question is why Olerud was willing to play first base in NY, but not in San Fran. A few fans are wondering why the M's didn't just trade Olerud if NY wanted him.

The reason Olerud signed in NY would seem to be straightforward. He still wants to play baseball. The reason he rejected the M's deal to send him to the Giants is also simple:

John never imagined he was going to be released by the M's

A guy who never spent a day in the minors figured with the M's paying his salary for this year, why go to San Francisco when you can stay in Seattle and be home part of the time. Once the M's released him, John suddenly realized just how far his stock had fallen. The M's couldn't get ANYONE to take him, for even a Grade-XYZ prospect, and when the M's released him the phone didn't exactly ring off the hook. Olerud realized just how few choices there are for an aging singles hitter who was making almost $8 million.

So Olerud had two choices- sit out the rest of the year and make a decision on his career over the winter, or sign with a club now and play. For a guy struggling for almost two years now, Olerud needs to play. It would be that much more difficult to sit the rest of the year and then convince teams over the winter he could still contribute. A few key hits in the post-season can open a few doors for him, as his agent undoubtedly realized. Playing with his kids all summer was only going to close what few doors were open. (This is not to say someone wouldn't give John a job next year, but the jobs might have involved names like Montreal or Tampa Bay. And the word "backp-up" would certainly be invoked.)

John can still retire over the winter, but for now he keeps his options open. Family is clearly not as big of an issue as we were led to believe for him, because playing for a team on the East Coast and playing in the post-season is not about maximizing your time at home.

Instead, John faced a rude wake-up call. I don't think he realized how much his performance led to last years disappointment in not making the playoffs, and certainly contributed to his team having one of the worst records in baseball this year. He's not going to the Yanks because he's a premier player playing on the best team in the AL- he's going as a band-aid while the teams star player heals.

John's a classy guy, but I wonder if high-fiving with Jeter et al. will be fun for him. I don't expect him to magically get his swing back, but if he works hard he can still help a team.