Rays Trade Jaso to Mariners

In a weekend that was filled with football, college basketball, and leftover turkey, the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners hooked up for a trade that pulled us back into the clutches of the simmering Hot Stove – the deal saw Tampa trade 28-year-old catcher John Jaso to Seattle for 27-year-old right-handed reliever Josh Lueke and a player to be named later (or cash considerations).

Jaso is a very solid, buy-low acquisition for the Mariners. He endeared himself to the sabermetric community by hitting .263/.372/.378 as a rookie in 2010, but followed that up by hitting only .224/.298/.354 this past season. That .288 wOBA, however, was largely due to a dip in BABIP to .244, which should see some natural correction next year.

The left-handed hitting catcher possesses a keen eye for balls and strikes at the plate and is extremely selective when swinging. He has walked more than he has struck out over his career, while swinging at a mere 34.9% of the pitches he sees over his 687 plate appearances in the big leagues. Only Bobby Abreu, Brett Gardner, Joe Mauer, and Jamey Carroll take the bat off their shoulder less often than Jaso.

Those are very desirable peripheral statistics for an offensive player, especially a catcher with fringe-average power who will not be eligible for arbitration until next winter.

Of course, all is not sunshine and roses surrounding Jaso. He is largely considered below-average behind the plate defensively and has never thrown out a large percentage of potential base stealers. Some reports suggest that he calls a good game behind the dish and that pitchers build a strong rapport with him; though one could easily argue that is belied by his inability to adequately frame pitches and suppress the opposing team’s running game. He is not terrible defensively — we’re not talking Ryan Doumit level of bad — but he will have to produce with his bat to be anything more than the +0.5 win player he was in 2011 due to his limitations with the glove.

With that said, if Jaso can produce at his career average mark of .245/.340/.365 — and, once again, his .244 BABIP in 2011 suggests that should be no problem — the Seattle Mariners will have a solid back-up catcher at the league minimum. If he can outproduce his career average and replicate his 2010 season, the Mariners will be able to utilize Miguel Olivo more sparingly against right-handed pitchers and trot out a catching platoon that maximizes the strengths of both players.

In return for Jaso, the Rays received right-handed reliever Josh Lueke. He has big-league stuff with a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s splitter, and a slurve-type pitch that sits 79-80 MPH, but he is more well-known amongst the baseball community for his legal issues back in 2009, when Lueke plead no-contest to a charge of false imprisonment with violence and spent 42 days in jail as a result. It should be noted that the Rays are not feigning ignorance, as the Mariners did in 2010 when they acquired him from Texas. GM Andrew Friedman released the following statement (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times):

“We researched the 2009 incident that Josh was involved in thoroughly and in great detail,” Friedman said in a statment [sic]. “We’re satisfied that he is going to be the kind of person and teammate that we look for and we expect him to contribute positively to our group.”.

And that is probably all you will hear from the Rays’ front office on the subject.

Lueke was acquired by Seattle in 2010 in the Cliff Lee deal and was seen as a future contributor at the back-end of a big league bullpen. Those expectations for his on-the-field performance are still largely in place after his improved second-half last season, but his trade value likely dropped significantly due to the public outcry exploded after the acquisition by Seattle. GMs across the league likely had to wonder how their ownership groups would act if a trade for Lueke spurred a larger public outcry than expected, which is likely why we’re talking about Lueke being traded for a reserve catcher and not as a piece to acquire something more significant.

On the field, though, Lueke should serve as a middle reliever and a bridge-man to closer Kyle Farnsworth. His ability to throw strikes needs significant work, but his control sharpened as the season wore on in 2011 and showed signs that he can be a useful cog in a bullpen. If he can ever begin to consistently throw quality strikes, though, the Rays could have a cheap reliever with some upside for the next five years.

He did post a rather dreadful 6.06 ERA over 32.2 innings last season. However, that number is rather misleading. His FIP was 3.24, and his FIP- was 84 (and remember that a number less than 100 is above-average). That ERA/FIP split is largely due to his .327 BABIP and extremely low 56.6% LOB%. Expect his ERA to drop significantly next season, though perhaps a move to the difficult AL East will temper the improvement a bit.

Overall, it’s difficult not to prefer this trade for the Mariners. At best, they acquired a +2 win starting-caliber catcher — which has been a need in Seattle for years — for a fungible reliever with significant baggage and command issues. At the very least, the Mariners acquired a platoon bat that should help limit the plate appearances for Miguel Olivo and his .273 wOBA.

And that, in itself, is a small victory.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


37 Responses to “Rays Trade Jaso to Mariners”

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  1. Steve says:

    Lueke just saved himself a syllable from his previous introduction, “Hi, I’m Josh and I’m a ray….”

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  2. Paul says:

    I’m on board with this being a good deal for the Mariners, just for karma credit alone, but calling John Jaso a +2 win player is a stretch. In 2010 when he was 2.7, he had a +0.3 baserunning factor. That’s humorous. And his defense was only -2. Niether of those was remotely realistic. Just adjust those two factors to planet Earth ratings and he was right about 2.0 WAR.

    In short, to call John Jaso a 2 WAR player you have to believe that offensively he IS the John Jaso of 2010, and ignore last season. If the M’s believed he was that guy, in the context of their pitiful offense and hacktastic battery partner, they’d be talking him up as potentially a starter.

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    • Erik H says:

      Jaso is a fantastic base runner. He takes the extra base very well and will advance without thinking about it on a ball in the dirt that rolls away from the catcher.

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    • Jim Breen says:

      You’re exactly correct to say that the 2010 Jaso would have to be the “real” Jaso to be worth 2.0 WAR. That’s why I said that “at best” the Mariners were acquiring a +2 win player. No guarantees by any stretch.

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    • Erik H says:

      Then what exactly is the point?

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      • Paul says:

        That he’s a 28 year old catcher who was a decent enough athlete for the position five years ago. And that based on some rather iffy values for WAR components in that +2.7 year, the sights might need to be lowered a tad (at least from Dave Cameron’s more optimistic take at USS Mariner – Jim’s take here was much more realistic, in my opinion).

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  3. Erik H says:

    I don’t know if it was intentional, Jim, but Topkin writes for the St. Petersburg Times, who happen to be changing their name January 1st to the Tampa Bay Times.

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  4. mister_rob says:

    Yippee!! A backup catcher who cant throw!!

    At this rate of improvement, the M’s might be relevant again in 2021

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    • Would you prefer a back-up catcher who can neither throw nor get on base?

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    • joser says:

      And how much does that really matter? Looking at the rSB column in the fielding leaderboard, the delta between the very best at catching base-stealers (Chris Stewart, Shoppach, Wieters) and the very worst (Arencibia, Varitek) is 11 runs, or exactly 1 win. And that’s for the extreme outliers: the vast majority, like Jaso, come in at plus or minus 2 or 3. Yes, Jaso is on the minus side, but how is that large enough to matter… even if he was playing every day?

      A better question, given the passed-ball rates the team has endured and which catching Felix in particular tends to exaggerate, is how is he at blocking balls in the dirt?

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      • Choo says:

        Jaso appears to be below average at preventing passed balls and wild pitches, but the sample size is small enough that it could be a mirage.

        @ Rob – Jaso will be the backup/platoon catcher who does the things the starting catcher can’t. Olivo is the thrower. Jaso is the on-base guy. Olivo mashes lefties. Jaso sort of mashes righties. A catcher with Olivo’s arm and Jaso’s on-base skills would cost a helluva lot more than Lueke on the open market.

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      • Nik says:

        Olivo does not mash lefties.

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      • Choo says:

        Yeah, “mash” is a strong word. How about, “Olivo has sucked less hard versus lefites over the span of his career.”

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      • Paul says:

        I definitely vote for “sucked less hard.”

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      • Ed says:

        Olivo has OPSed .798 vs. lefties for his career, good for a 102 wRC+. Nothing sucky about that.

        As for the other side of the plate.. well, hopefull Jaso’s BABIP bounces back next year.

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  5. jpg says:

    @Erik H – Paul’s point is that although he may be a smart baserunner who makes good decisions on the basepaths, Jaso would struggle to beat any of the Molina Bros in a race with a 10 yard head start and a 50 mph wind at his back. In other words he’s slow. Really, really slow.

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  6. Nick says:

    “We’re satisfied that he is going to be the kind of person and teammate that we look for and we expect him to contribute positively to our group”

    Maybe Mr. Friedman can elaborate on what he means by the “kind of person you look for”? Does he mean the type of guy that will furiously masturbate on a vomiting woman that he has forcibly confined? Or the type of guy that has anal sex with a drunken passed out woman and then proceed to lie about it to police?

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    • Maybe he’s the type of guy who accuses others of unproven acts because he’s on some kind of weird moral crusade.

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    • ChrisFromBothell says:

      I hope Rays fans have as much fun having these debates as Mariners fans did. I mean really, it’s definitely a part of the great American pastime… buy me some peanuts and cracker jack, the reliever plea bargained rape down to a lesser charge, so it’s root root root for the home team…

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  7. Chones Figgins MVP says:

    I’ll be bringing my talents to Tampa Bay next season.

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  8. subtle says:

    Jaso has never really lit the BABIP world on fire. He draws most of his value from walking and will have to find a way to get some hits to see an improvement in Seattle. I don’t love this trade but it will certainly save the Mariners money if they can move Olivo.

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    • Raymond says:

      In 2010 Jaso got hits the normal way: by having a reasonable BABIP. In 2011 he was injured and had an unreasonable BABIP. His career mark in that metric is waaaay low for a contact hitter, and although he hasn’t had a high BABIP yet in the majors there is a large pool of comparable players who have. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see him beat his career mark in Seattle, which in turn would probably make Jaso a productive enough guy to catch the majority of Seattle’s games in 2012.

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  9. Dustin says:

    I’m not really sure about this, but from watching Jaso over the past couple of years it seems to me that (a) he does indeed have excellent command of the strikezone, which gives him the ability to work walks and, once on base, to utilize his very good instincts to swipe bases and put himself into scoring position; however (b) he is a mediocre contact hitter. So, when pitchers figured out that he wouldn’t swing at anything out of the zone, they started pumping in strikes, which, for the most part, Jaso doesn’t seem to be able to hit with any authority or regularity.

    A great eye at the plate will make Jaso a serviceable offensive catcher, but I’d be surprised if his defense is ever better than below average. Not only does he have a clearly and demonstrably lousy arm, anybody’s eyeball test would probably confirm the numbers on Jaso’s inability to block balls in the dirt. As to framing, I’m not sure, but the guy’s defensive mechanics have always been somewhere between passable and bad. At times, he looks downright lost behind the plate.

    I hope things go well for Jaso. He’s been, at times, a fun player to watch. If he can hold it down as a backstop and push his offensive numbers toward 2010 levels, he’ll be a great pickup for the Mariners. But I have doubts about his ability to do either of those things. I don’t think Jaso’s going to be terrible, but I do think that reasonable expectations should put him closer to 2011 than 2010.

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  10. maqman says:

    Jack Z and Dave Cameron like him that’s good enough for me.

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  11. BlackOps says:

    Josh Thole

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