Pirates sign Jaso to 2-year deal

Club plans on having him be starting first baseman against right-handed pitching

Pirates sign Jaso to 2-year deal

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' search for a left-handed-hitting first baseman led them to a player who has only spent five innings at first base.

The Pirates signed free agent John Jaso to a two-year deal on Wednesday. Jaso will be the Bucs' starting first baseman against right-handed pitching, as Pittsburgh is once again rolling the dice -- as with Pedro Alvarez last season -- that a productive hitter can adjust to a new home on defense. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but an industry source said that Jaso's contract is worth a total of $8 million over the two years.

"It shows a lot of confidence for a team to go after me when I have limited playing experience at first base," Jaso said. "This opportunity makes me want to do the best I can. It's very motivating.

"I've had a nice baseball career, one I'm very proud of, and this is just good because it's almost like a cool breeze or a fresh thing that I get to experience and make the game like new again."

Jaso presents the offensive profile the Pirates were hoping to find. But what about his defense?

"We feel like it's a very nice addition to our offense and recognize that we are taking a calculated risk on the defense," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "For us to continue to be successful, these are the kind of opportunities we're going to have to take."

The 32-year-old broke into the Majors as a catcher, and he spent most of last year as a designated hitter while occasionally seeing time in the corner-outfield spots. He has only played two games at first base in the Majors -- one inning in 2013 and four innings in '10.

Jaso has told the Pirates he is willing to be their emergency third catcher, Huntington said, but he is expected to spend most of his time at first base while occasionally moving to the outfield.

"I recognize that this sounds an awful lot like the statement I made a year ago [about Alvarez], but we think the hands and feet should be able to play first base. He's going to work at it," Huntington said. "He recognizes that it will be a challenge, but he also recognizes that there's huge upside for him to show that he can play first base.

"He is completely committed to doing what it takes to become a quality Major League first baseman defensively."

The Pirates non-tendered Alvarez earlier this month after he struggled to make the transition from third to first base. Alvarez was projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to make $8.1 million next season, approximately what Jaso will make over the next two years.

While Jaso will ultimately replace Alvarez, he is a completely different offensive player. Alvarez offered home-run power and high strikeout totals, while Jaso is known for his on-base percentage and quality at-bats.

Jaso owns a career .361 on-base percentage -- a figure that led to him occasionally batting leadoff for the Rays. In 70 games with Tampa Bay last season, Jaso batted .286/.380/.459 with five home runs and 22 RBIs.

Jaso also provides the Pirates' lineup with a much-needed left-handed bat. He has put together a career .274/.368/.429 batting line against right-handed pitching while batting just .178/.309/.232 against lefties.

"We'll see how things play out," Huntington said. "As we sit here today, he would be our starting first baseman against right-handed pitching."

Before the Bucs signed Jaso, Gregory Polanco was the only left-handed hitter manager Clint Hurdle could write into his starting lineup. Now, Hurdle can pencil in Jaso at first base -- and the Pirates can scratch one big item off their offseason to-do list.

"He's a guy that commands the zone, uses the whole field, works the count, is a high walk-percentage guy and a low strikeout-percentage guy," Huntington said. "He's a very, very good complement to our existing lineup."

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

With a .273 average and a .373 on-base percentage across the past four seasons, Jaso has the plate skills to help NL-only owners next year despite a lack of power and speed (lifetime 37 homers, 15 steals). Likely to work in a first-base platoon with Michael Morse, the native Californian should predominately face righties, against whom he owns an .841 OPS since the outset of 2012. This signing should end the mixed-league relevance of Morse, who may not exceed 350 plate appearances in '16.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.