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Rays Trade John Jaso to Mariners for Josh Lueke: A Fan’s Take
Upgrading the catcher position is one of the primary goals for the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. In 2011, the Rays utilized the catching platoon of Kelly Shoppach(notes) and John Jaso(notes), but both players struggled to be productive.
Kelly Shoppach was strong defensively, posting a 41% caught stealing percentage and a +1.2 defensive WAR, but he struggled offensively. He hit just .176 with 11 home runs and 22 RBIs in 87 games.
John Jaso (the Rays "offensive" catcher) struggled at the plate in 2011, hitting just .224 with five home runs and 27 RBIs in 89 games. Jaso's OBP was down to .298 in 2011 after he posted a .372 OBP in 2010. In addition to struggling at the plate, Jaso also struggled behind the plate. He had difficultly blocking pitches in the dirt, framing pitches and he posted a dismal 17% caught stealing percentage.
One of the first moves the Rays made after the 2011 season was to decline the team option on catcher Kelly Shoppach, making him a free agent. Shoppach had publically stated that he would like to return to the Rays if possible. However, when news broke that the Rays were about to sign veteran catcher Jose Molina(notes), it appeared that the Rays were going to head into the 2012 season with Jaso and Molina behind the plate.
The Rays are a team that finds success through pitching and defense. It appears, in the Rays eyes, that Jaso's left-handed bat and offensive potential could not make up for his defensive short comings. So, on Sunday, Nov. 27, it was announced that the Rays and the Seattle Mariners completed a trade that sent John Jaso to the Mariners in return for right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lueke(notes) and a player to be named later (or cash).
It's the type of move that Andrew Friedman, the Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations, has become known for. He moved a piece that no longer fit into the Rays puzzle in return for a player that addresses a larger organizational need.
Josh Lueke is a hard throwing relief pitcher with a fastball in the mid-90's, a splitter and a slider that has the potential to be an above average pitch. He appeared in 25 games for the Mariners in 2011 and posted a 1-1 record with a 6.06 ERA while recording 29 strikeouts in 32.2 innings pitched.
Lueke will have to compete in spring training to make the Rays opening day 2012 roster, but he's the type of player the Rays like to pursue. He's young, has a fair amount of potential and remains under team control for several more seasons. He should remain fairly cheap.
On the surface, the trade seems to make sense for the Rays. Jaso wasn't the long term answer behind the plate and they need more arms in the bullpen. However, Lueke comes to the Rays with a fair amount of baggage.
In 2009, he pleaded no contest to false imprisonment with violence as part of a plea bargain that led to a 40 day prison sentence. As part of the plea bargain, the original charges of rape of an unconscious victim and rape of a drugged victim were dropped. The charges stemmed from an incident that occurred in 2008 when he was a member of the Bakersfield Blaze, a Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Full details on the reported incident can be found in this article.
In the past the Rays have proven that they always do their due diligence before acquiring a player and it appears they have done so in this case. Andrew Friedman said, "We researched the 2009 incident that Josh was involved in thoroughly and in great detail. 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."
When questioned about his past Lueke said, "That's a thing of the past and I'm kind of just trying to let people meet me and get to know me and they can make their own opinion of me like most people have. I'm just going to try and do what I can to help the team and move on and hopefully that eventually just goes away and people quit judging on what they hear and actually get to know me. Then they can make their own opinion on that."
By trading Jaso the Rays have potentially strengthened their bullpen, but the catching position remains in flux. The Rays finally came to terms with Jose Molina on Nov. 28, signing him to a one-year $1.8 million contract with a $1.8 million team option for 2013. The deal will pay Molina $1.5 million in 2012 and if the Rays do not pick up his 2013 option they'll have to pay a $300,000 buyout.
Molina is a strong defensive catcher that fits the Rays philosophy of focusing on pitching and defense, but with Jaso gone the Rays still need a second catcher in 2012. They may choose to address that need from within by giving Jose Lobaton(notes) or Robinson Chirinos(notes) a chance to win the second catcher job in spring training. Or, if the price is right, the Rays could bring Shoppach back on a one-year deal for 2012.
The Rays have been in the middle of multiple trade rumors so far this offseason, but trading John Jaso wasn't one of them. It was an interesting move for the Rays and it's most likely just the beginning of what should be an intriguing offseason.
Sean McDonnell has been a resident of the Tampa Bay area for the past 21 years. He is an avid fan of the Tampa Bay Rays; Tampa Bay Bucs and USF Bulls.
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