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November 27, 2011 at 5:33 PM

Mariners acquire catching help, nabbing John Jaso from Tampa Bay in exchange for Josh Lueke

Everyone knew the Mariners wanted catching help this winter and they got some today by acquiring John Jaso from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Josh Lueke and a player to be named later. The Rays will receive a list of non-premium minor leaguers to pick from, or can take a cash amount instead.
The Lueke era in Seattle went without incident, in stark contrast to the controversy that surrounded his acquisition. His numbers in Seattle didn’t live up to the hype of his arm, but he’s still young and — as we’ve now seen — some teams will still want to see what he can do on a mound regardless of the past.
In the end, though, the Mariners were flush with plenty of high-velocity, potential upside arms and were able to parlay Lueke into a secondary catcher behind Miguel Olivo. The way catching depth is in the majors right now, that could turn out to be a pretty good value move.
“A good arm is a good arm,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told me this afternoon. “But you have to look at the catching and where it’s at. In the end, that’s what this is about.”
Jaso, 28, has two plus years of service time and is still not arbitration eligible. He hits from the left side and produced a .750 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.372 of that in on-base-percentage) in 2010 in just over .400 plate appearances.
Those numbers dropped significantly last season, including an alarm-bell inducing .298 on-base percentage.
But it’s worth noting that Jaso went on the DL with an oblique strain July 10. Oblique injuries can linger and ruin a season. Jaso appeared in only 24 more games the rest of the way and his numbers were actually about the same before and after the DL stint.
So, you can look at it a couple of ways. Either you don’t think the injury had anything to do with his numbers, which were poor to begin with. Or, maybe the injury prevented him from overcoming a poor start with a better second half — as many players have been known to do.
Zduriencik told me the team is hoping the injury played a role in the numbers tumble because he’s very intrigued by the high OBP from 2010. As we know, incumbent Olivo does not have a good OBP at all, though he does have above average home run power for a catcher.
Jaso could supply some of what’s needed offensively from behind the plate.
Oh wait, yes, what about Adam Moore?

Well, I asked Zduriencik that very question and he pointed out that both Moore and Jaso still have minor league options left.
“So, you bring them in, let them fight it out and see what you’ve got,” he said.
Zduriencik likes the fact that Jaso is still young enough to be a minimum-wage player with four years of club control remaining. That gives the team some type of insurance long-term if Moore fails to live up to his advance billing.
And for the cost of Lueke?
Well, as I said, the Mariners finished off the year with Tom Wilhelmsen having seized the set-up job away from Lueke. At least, he’d moved past Lueke on the depth chart heading into spring training.
Add in Steve Delabar and Chance Ruffin, there are three high-powered arms that were not in the picture when spring training opened a year ago.
A lot has changed in the past 12 months bullpen-wise and in the end, Lueke did not demonstrate enough to merit keeping him over a catcher.
Jaso still has a lot to prove. But this appears to be a deal well worth the minor risk.



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