Rockies still mulling over what to do with Olivo

Rockies still mulling over what to do with Olivo

DENVER -- Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said on Wednesday the club is still contemplating whether to pick up catcher Miguel Olivo's $2.5 million option for 2011, as well as what the club's plan is for the position.

The Rockies face a Thursday deadline for either picking up the option or paying Olivo a $500,000 buyout and allowing him to become a free agent.

"We're allowed to take our time and make a decision tomorrow," O'Dowd said.

In other contract-related news, as expected, the Rockies will not pick up one-time ace left-hander Jeff Francis' 2011 option for $7 million after seeing him battle health problems for the last three years. O'Dowd said the Rockies still hope to re-sign Francis under a contract that protects them if he continues to struggle.

The catching position bears watching. Olivo and Chris Iannetta, who is headed into the second year of a three-year, $8.35 million contract, handled the position through several twists and turns in 2010.

The Rockies offered stability to Iannetta, an organizational product, by signing him before last season -- but also grabbed the more-experienced Olivo via free agency.

The starting job seemed to be Olivo's early in the year. He hit .325 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs before the All-Star break. Iannetta struggled early and was sent down to Triple-A Colorado Springs. However, Olivo dipped after the break, hitting .193 in 49 games to end up at .269 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs.

Iannetta, who had shown flashes earlier in his career but had been a backup to Yorvit Torrealba for much of his time in the Majors, saw his playing time increase. He finished the year hitting .197 with nine homers and 27 RBIs.

Both Olivo and Iannetta aspire to be the No. 1 catcher, and each found it difficult to stay productive when he wasn't playing regularly.

Still, no matter what the Rockies decide with regard to Olivo's option, it may not be the final answer.

If the Rockies retain Olivo, they could still make him available in a trade. The notion of trading Iannetta has subsided since the club hired hitting coach Carney Lansford, who helped Iannetta as hitting coach at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2007.

Then there is free agency. Victor Martinez, who could also offer valuable rest to first baseman Todd Helton, has been mentioned as a catching alternative.

For now, though, O'Dowd said a return to the 2010 plan is not out of the question.

"In Chris' case, he has yet to achieve what we feel is still there, and I guess you can argue he hasn't been given the pure opportunity," O'Dowd said. "Miguel had a good first half and struggled in the second half, but overall he did what we asked of him. If we went into next season, given the other issues that we're facing, if we have one or the other -- or both, we're fine with it."

The free-agent market will determine whether Francis will remain with the Rockies, the club that chose him in the first round in 2002.

From his first full season in 2005 through '07, Francis went 44-32 with a 4.65 ERA in 99 starts. That included a 17-9, 4.22 regular season in '07 that he followed with two playoff wins while leading the club to the World Series.

Since then, however, he is 8-16 with a 5.01 ERA in 44 games, including 43 starts. He missed all of 2009 because of shoulder surgery, and parts of '08 and '10 with shoulder problems.

"We love what he brings -- and his competitiveness is one of the things we try to be all about. And we'd love to have him come back under conditions where he has to make good on the opportunity," O'Dowd said. "He was healthy at the end of the season, but I don't know when he starts back up on his pitching program, I don't know that we are 100 percent sure. You just don't know."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.