Given the Rays’ struggles behind the plate last season, it didn’t seem all that likely that the team would be content to replace Kelly Shoppach with Jose Molina and call it a day. They went in another direction Sunday, trading incumbent John Jaso to the Mariners for reliever Josh Lueke and a player to be named or cash.
Jaso, 28, is known for his on-base skills, and he’ll provide a pretty stark contrast to Miguel Olivo when he’s in Seattle’s lineup next season, assuming he bounces back. Jaso hit .263/.372/.378 as a rookie in 2010 before slipping to .224/.298/.354 in 246 at-bats last season.
The Rays figure to go get a new starting catcher to replace Jaso, though they do have an internal option in Robinson Chirinos. Ramon Hernandez is still out there in free agency and would make a ton of sense for the club.
The Mariners figure to have Jaso and Olivo split time, though not in a straight platoon. While the left-handed-hitting Jaso should play against the majority of righties, Olivo will get some starts there, too.
In Lueke, the Rays get a power arm, but one the Mariners didn’t value very highly. Lueke was acquired from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal without Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik having known about his having pled no contest to a false imprisonment charge (after originally facing rape and sodomy charges) and having served jail time. Lueke throws 92-95 mph, but after he flopped in 32 2/3 innings for the Mariners last season, compiling a 6.06 ERA, it’s no surprise to see him go here. He has the potential to turn into a nice setup man or maybe even a closer for Tampa Bay.
Given that Jaso is always going to be a poor defensive catcher even if he does bounce back offensively, this looks like a win for Tampa Bay. Lueke could very well flame out, but he’s also a candidate to turn into a fine reliever, and the Rays needed to do better than Jaso for a starting catcher anyway.