The Rays made a big move today, trading John Jaso to the Mariners for relief pitcher Josh Lueke and a player to be named later or cash. This is a big move for the Rays as Jaso was likely heading for a bigger role next season without Kelly Shoppach. It makes you wonder if the Rays have something big up their sleeves other than the imminent signing of Jose Molina.
Jaso got off to a good start when he was first called up in 2010, which firmly cemented him into Joe Maddon’s catching rotation. The bat wasn’t always there and his defense, specifically his noodle arm, was frustrating at best. He is still young, but I think it is a good move for the Rays to part ways with Jaso. If they don’t sign anyone other than Molina they still have good options in Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos to take on bigger roles behind the plate. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out next year, but the Rays could certainly afford to deal Jaso, considering he was shaky at best as a catcher for the Rays.
As for what the Rays got in return, Josh Lueke is another bullpen arm that could play a role in the 2012 big league staff. His 6.06 ERA in 25 big league appearances last year isn’t great, but he did settle down after a July call-up, collecting a 3.42 ERA in 17 appearances. Lueke has a shaky past, collecting a rape charge while with the Bakersfield Blaze in 2008. He eventually pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of false imprisonment with violence. He got 40 days in prison but was released on time served.
His past doesn’t really fit with the Rays model, who have always had a great image without much legal trouble. Jeff Zduriencik, the Mariners GM, has said that Lueke has been a model citizen since joining the Mariners after the Cliff Lee deal with the Rangers. Lueke is still young at 27 and the Rays had a need for relievers, so he could be a good fit if his legal troubles are behind him.
In the end I think this is a good deal for the Rays. Jaso had a rough 2011 season and had fallen out of favor with Rays fans after a strong start to his big league career. His defense was his glaring issue as teams ran at will against him, and you just can’t have that in a division with Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Brett Gardner. Lueke could play a big part in the 2012 Rays bullpen if he puts up similar numbers to his last 17 appearances. The Rays may have been able to get more in return for Jaso, but the return certainly fills a need.