Mariners acquire catcher John Jaso from Rays

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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.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.