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 Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.
Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).
A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.
The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:
A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.