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April 9, 2013 at 9:24 AM

Morse-for-Jaso trade revisited: overestimating the importance of club control

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There have been a handful of pieces put out in the blogosphere of late already revisiting the John Jaso-for-Michael Morse trade by the Mariners and asking whether Seattle fans overreacted to the prospect of trading a part-time catcher for a full-time middle-of-the-order hitter.

I already gave you my impressions when the deal first came out. And let’s not get too worked up over Morse’s home run totals so far. The season just started. Plus, Jaso has been hitting when he does get on the field, though his catching has looked just as suspect and is something he was spending extra time working on before games when we were down in Oakland last week.

But regardless of any opening-week stats, one thing I keep seeing overstated, I think, on Jaso’s behalf was the remaining years of club control the Mariners would have had had they held on to him. The Mariners could have held on to Jaso for two more years after this one had they wished.

So, how much would that really have been worth?

Since Jaso continues to be used as a platoon catcher against right-handers only, the likelihood of his exceeding 400 plate appearances this season remains in question. And when you consider the defensive points you have to dock, it’s time for some fans to come to grips with the fact that no matter how high his OPS climbs in specifically designated matchups with certain pitchers, this will never be Johnny Bench.

Jaso as a pinch-hitter and sometimes DH was a great find for the Mariners, who did an outstanding job maximizing Jaso’s offensive potential by limiting his playing time.

Once you look at Jaso in those terms — a part-time player who can deliver good stats as long as he’s not played behind the plate too much — you have to ask yourself how much that’s worth spending on.

Right now, I’d say Jaso’s cost is just about maxed out.

He’s being paid $1.8 million by the A’s this year, which is just over the $1.5 million the Mariners are paying backup catcher Kelly Shoppach – a far better receiver who normally doesn’t hit as well in his limited role.

But here’s the thing: come next year, assuming Jaso continues to produce an OPS up near .800, that salary will climb via arbitration. It would not be unreasonable to expect him to command nearly $4 million next season. After that, if he has another decent year in a part-time role, the numbers could soar to $6 million or more.

That’s what your club control gets you if you’re the Mariners. The ability to pay a part-time catcher more than the market rate. Now, that’s great if you have absolutely nobody at the position coming up in your system. But the Mariners drafted Mike Zunino with their third overall pick last June, he’s raking at all levels of the minors and will be up here sooner rather than later.

After that June pick was made, it became obvious that Jesus Montero was never going to be used as a full-time catcher beyond the next year or two and that Jaso’s days in the organization were numbered. Jaso and Montero are both below average defensively, though Montero arguably has the better arm.

The only thing that kept the Mariners from running wild on the A’s last week in Oakland was a left-handed starting pitcher and a paucity of baserunners. Brendan Ryan had one stolen base even with a southpaw on the mound (Brett Anderson) that was embarassingly easy, and that’s something the Mariners feared all of last season in making pre-game decisions about whether to risk starting Jaso against a club with any type of speed.

So, you’re not going to pay Jaso $6 million per season and higher for that.

Therefore, once his salary starts climbing beyond this year, the value of his club control becomes less and less.

And that’s why, trading him for a full-time player like Morse — who also has his defensive limitations — made sense. Because Morse brought this team something it didn’t always have — a legitimate full-time mid-order presence. And trading for him gives you an exclusive window, as the Lookout Landing post linked to above states, to offer a contract extension.

For me, getting a full-time middle-of-the-order hitter for a below average part-time catcher who can hit off the bench will be worth it every time. Regardless of the club control issues.

Morse was something the Mariners lacked. They have trotted out any variety of bad catchers over the years. The fact that Jaso could hit better than most of them was not enough to override his liabilities in other areas.

For less than $2 million? He’s a great role player who brings value to a team, which is why the A’s traded for him.

But beyond this year? Let’s see whether Jaso is still with the A’s come 2015. I doubt that he will be, though I’ve been wrong before. But if he isn’t, the whole club control point becomes moot.

In other words, don’t sweat it. The trade always made sense, regardless of what both guys have done this first week.

Comments | More in trades | Topics: john jaso; michael morse; jesus montero; mike zunino

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