Come early evening almost every offseason Sunday, I get to asking myself whether I should put something up on the website. I always want to, because I always want to, but then on the other hand, I figure there won't be that many people around to read it, and seldom do I have an idea, and ideas can be hard to find. So there's often this difficult decision to be made between doggedly working to get something published and doing something else somewhere else with my final hours of the weekend, staying occupied or unoccupied while feeling persistent but manageable pangs of guilt.
Today I was headed for another such struggle, sitting on the couch watching the waning minutes of a hockey game and mulling over what I should do afterwards. That's when I checked Twitter on my phone and saw that the Mariners had made a trade. A trade including Major League players, even. That made things easy. I wish and I do not wish that the Mariners would make a move on every offseason Sunday.
The trade, in case this is the first you've heard of it, is that Josh Lueke is going to the Rays, along with cash or a player to be named later, and that John Jaso is coming back. Minor league contracts aside, this is the first move of significance of the Mariners' offseason.
We'll begin with what's leaving, and with the lesser part of the package. If the Rays end up getting a PTBNL, it's been indicated that the player will not be a top prospect, which should go without saying given that the Rays are just trading John Jaso, and appear to have a choice between a player or cash. A handy rule of thumb is that, if a team is receiving "a player to be named later or cash," the player is not very highly regarded, which I write with no intended disrespect to whoever the player might end up being. Fun fact: if the Rays end up getting money instead, it will probably be a lot more money than you make over one or two years. Perspective!
And now for Josh Lueke. From a performance standpoint, Lueke had a complicated 2011 season. He was not good in April after breaking camp with the team, throwing way too many balls and working off an unimpressive fastball. He reported to Tacoma, where he straightened things out, and then he returned to Seattle, where he pitched much better than before, with his velocity mostly restored. He was not a great reliever down the stretch, but he was a good one, and a good one as a rookie. That bodes well for his future, as Lueke should go on to be an effective albeit rarely dominating reliever at the highest level.
From an off-the-field standpoint, meanwhile, Lueke's time with the organization was incident-free, at least after the initial discovery hubbub. As ballplayers go, Lueke has seemingly been pretty clean outside of the one night he'll never escape, but there was that one night, and there will always have been that one night, and I don't think there's any denying that the Mariners trading Lueke makes a few things a little smoother. If you believe Lueke should not be allowed to play baseball, he's no longer Mariners property; if you believe Lueke deserves a chance, he's landed with maybe the best possible team for a potential PR headache. Rays fans already treat the organization like they're mad at it.
And this all brings us to John Jaso. Jaso is a 28-year-old lefty-hitting catcher with two years of big league service. His Major League resume with Tampa:
It's important that you focus not on the .372 OBP from two years ago, or on the .298 OBP from last year, but on the .340 OBP overall. Jaso has had just about 700 plate appearances in the bigs, and over that span - basically one full season - he's been a league-average hitter, with a normal or even sub-normal BABIP. A league-average hitter, for a backstop.
It's easy to see why Jaso is intriguing. He's a lefty-hitting catcher with more career walks than strikeouts. He's extremely selective - over the last two years, he's posted the third-lowest swing rate in baseball - and he's made contact with eight out of every nine swings. Jaso appeals to the big part of all of us that can't ever stand watching Miguel Olivo come to bat.
Of course, it isn't all rosy. There's a reason an organization like the Rays traded a cheap player like Jaso for a reliever and little else. Jaso has very limited power. He's not Chone Figgins, but he's also not Carlos Peguero. His arm isn't good, or at least the numbers don't suggest that his arm is good. The numbers don't suggest that he's some champion of blocking pitches in the dirt, either, and of course, there was that .651 OPS last season. One might be concerned that Jaso is too patient, patient enough to expose, because pitchers don't believe he can hurt them with his bat.
But for me, the pluses seem to outweigh the minuses here, and as minor a trade as this is in the grand scheme of things, it seems like the Zduriencik front office did well in addressing an area of weakness. In Jaso, the Mariners have a guy who can back up Olivo and handle enough time to - at least in theory - prevent Olivo from wearing down. Jaso's presence could allow the M's to trade Olivo during the year if they want to, and in the absolute best-case scenario, Jaso could even start for the M's for a handful of years.
We shouldn't count on that, and we should take into consideration the Rays' willingness to move Jaso for what they did, but the Mariners are better behind the plate than they were a few hours ago. There's a little less pressure and dependence on Adam Moore, now, and the same goes for Olivo. I'd say that's a good thing. Jaso's not perfect, but boy were the M's ever not looking for perfect.