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Olivo will return to Royals as starting catcher

DANA POINT, Calif. | Miguel Olivo will return next season to the Royals after getting what he wanted – a commitment from club officials that he will be the starting catcher.

“We talked,” he said, “and that’s what they told me. That made me happy. So I said fine, let’s do the deal.”

Olivo, 30, and the Royals each agreed Monday to exercise the $2.7 million mutual option in his contract for 2009. The two sides further agreed to mutual option for 2010 at about $3.25 million.

General manager Dayton Moore and manager Trey Hillman each confirmed Olivo will open the season as the starting catcher – but each stressed John Buck will see regular duty.

“That’s absolutely the plan,” Moore said. “If we play seven games in a row, you’ll probably have Miguel Olivo catching four and John Buck catching three.

“It’s not going to be a situation where Miguel Olivo is catching six games for every one game for John Buck. That’s not how it’s going to happen.”

The Royals made several other personnel moves Monday as Moore arrived here for the annual general managers’ meetings:

—Catcher Brayan Peña was added to the 40-man roster.

—Catcher Matt Tupman and reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta, after clearing waivers, were sent to Class AAA Omaha on an outright assignment.

—Shortstop Angel Sanchez, one viewed as a long-term infield solution, was lost to Toronto on a waiver claim. Olivo made $2.15 million last season in base salary and performance bonuses. The Royals could have retained him, even if he had voided the option, by offering arbitration because he lacks sufficient big-league service time to qualify for free agency.

Buck, 28, is eligible for arbitration after making $2.2 million in 2008. He has been the club’s No. 1 catcher since arriving as part of the June 24, 2004, trade that sent outfielder Carlos Beltran to Houston.

No longer.

“Miguel Olivo will open the season as our starting catcher,” Hillman said, “and we’ll continue to evaluate it. I don’t know what the splits will be.”

Buck started nearly two-thirds of the last year’s games – 106 of 162 – and batted .224 with nine homers and 48 RBIs. Olivo batted .255 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 84 games but made just 56 starts at catcher.

“We feel we have two guys, in John Buck and Miguel Olivo, who complement each other very well,” Moore said. “We’re fortunate to have some depth and experience there at a crucial position.”

The Royals acquired Peña, 26, through a May 30 waiver claim from Atlanta. He then batted .303 with six homers and 31 RBIs in 60 games at Omaha.

Sanchez, 25, batted .247 in 101 games at Omaha and Class AA Northwest Arkansas after missing the 2007 season because of reconstructive elbow surgery.

Yabuta, 35, represents – at this point – an expensive whiff. The Royals lured him last November from Japan for $6 million over two years in hopes that he could serve as a setup reliever. Instead, he was 1-3 with a 4.78 ERA in 31 games and spent much of the season in the minors.

Tupman, 28, batted just .229 last season in 81 games at Omaha and is recovering from a small tear in his shoulder. He isn’t expected to be fully recovered until late in spring training.

“I’ve always felt that we need to have three catchers on the 40-man roster,” Moore said. “Obviously, Tupman’s shoulder situation is a factor. Plus, Brayan Peña doesn’t have options (remaining).”

Olivo is a seven-year veteran who played for the White Sox, Mariners, Padres and Marlins before signing last December as a free agent with the Royals. He chafed throughout the season at being a backup.

That frustration peaked in late August when he speculated publicly that Hillman didn’t like him. A clear-the-air meeting followed. So did, coincidence or not, increased playing time.

Olivo started 14 of the final 27 games, and the Royals went 10-4 in his starts. Overall, the Royals were 26-30 with a 4.42 ERA when Olivo started and 49-57 with a 4.52 ERA when Buck started.

“John Buck is certainly a strong part of our future,” Moore said, “but we made a decision toward the end of the year that Miguel Olivo deserved the majority of the catching time.”

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