Mariners Acquire John Jaso
The M’s have made their first move of the off-season, and my initial reaction is that I love this one. They’ve traded RHP Josh Lueke and a PTBNL (or cash, indicating that it’s probably not a very important secondary player) to the Tampa Bay Rays for C John Jaso. Lueke you know about, so here’s the lowdown on Jaso.
He’s a 28-year-old left-handed catcher who worked his way up through Tampa Bay’s system despite not being a scout’s favorite. He displayed a fantastic approach at the plate (career 299/309 BB/K in 2,550 minor league plate appearances) all the way up through the minors, and used his on base skills to compensate for just average power.
After tiring of Dioner Navarro, the Rays turned their catching job over to Jaso in 2010, and he responded by having a fantastic season, hitting .263/.378/.372 in his rookie year. His terrific approach at the plate continued, as he drew 59 walks and struck out just 39 times, and while he still didn’t show a ton of power, his on base skills more than made up for it. Overall, Jaso was a +2.7 win player in 404 plate appearances, and he looked like he had established himself as the Rays primary catcher for 2011.
His follow-up effort didn’t go as well, however, as he ended up hitting just .224/.298/.354 in 273 PA in 2011. His walk rate fell and his strikeout rate increased, cutting his production in the process. However, the main cause of Jaso’s regression came from his BABIP, which dropped from .283 in 2010 to .244 last year. Among the 306 players who got 250+ PA last year, that BABIP ranked 294th, and while he could have just not hit the ball as well, it also suggests that his overall batting line is worse than it should have been, and he could be a pretty good bounce back candidate.
Overall, Jaso’s career line in the Majors is still a decent .245/.340/.365, and that’s with a .266 BABIP, so it’s not like those numbers have been inflated by balls falling in. His exceptional contact abilities and solid approach at the plate give him the ability to get on base, and while he’s not any kind of thumper, he has enough gap power to at least keep pitchers honest.
Defensively, Jaso doesn’t bring as much to the table. He’s thrown out just 22 of 113 attempted base stealers during his career (19% CS%), and his throwing arm can only be described as not great. However, he can actually catch the ball, and while he won’t shut down a running game, he’s a good enough receiver to be able to handle the position. The Mariners will have to put up with the opposing team taking second base a bit more often, but given the offensive upgrade they’ll get from having his bat in the line-up, it’s an easy trade-off to make.
The M’s essentially just acquired Miguel Olivo‘s polar opposite, which considering all of his flaws, is a really good idea. Jaso won’t even be arbitration eligible for the first time until next winter, so he’s going to make something close to the league minimum, and they also control his rights through 2015.
Even if Jaso’s actual talent level is closer to his 2011 skills than his 2010 numbers, he projects as a +1 to +2 win player, and the Mariners got him for a middle reliever with a lot of baggage. If his BABIP bounces back to 2010 levels, he could be an above average catcher, and a guy they could run out there as the starter on a regular basis.
It’s hard not to see this as a steal for the M’s. With Jaso in the fold, the M’s can run a potentially effective platoon behind the plate, and they now have a solid catching option for the future who won’t cost any money for the next few years. If the M’s can make a few more moves like this, 2012 will start to look a lot better in a hurry.
Added point: Just for fun, here’s Jaso’s career line compared with the guy who has been catching for the Phillies for the last five years. They’re almost the exact same player, and Carlos Ruiz has been a vital cog on one of the best teams in baseball. Ruiz is the template for this kind of player, and shows that this skill set can do quite well.