Mariners acquire catcher Jaso from Rays

Mariners acquire catcher Jaso from Rays

SEATTLE -- John Jaso was in northern California on Sunday when he learned he'd been traded by Tampa Bay to the Mariners for reliever Josh Lueke. So the catcher decided he'll finish out his Thanksgiving visits before flying back to Florida to gather his belongings and then returning to Arizona for the eventual start of Spring Training.

"I'd just come out to the West Coast, but I've got to head back," Jaso said with a chuckle. "I guess I'll be like my golf game, zig-zagging across the fairway."

The Mariners are counting on Jaso's bat and glove more than his golf clubs, fortunately. But they do hope he eventually finds a permanent home in Seattle, where his left-handed bat intrigued general manager Jack Zduriencik enough to part with a piece of his youthful pitching depth for the 28-year-old backstop.

The Mariners will also send the Rays a player to be named or cash considerations, though Jaso and Lueke are the primary pieces in the deal.

Jaso, 28, has hit .245 with 10 home runs and 71 RBIs in 595 at-bats over three seasons with the Rays and could be used in a platoon situation with incumbent starter Miguel Olivo and backup Adam Moore, who are both right-handed hitters.

"John gives us a left-handed-hitting catcher with some big league time who is still young," Zduriencik said. "His left-handed bat will be a nice complement to our right-handed-hitting group. He's a tough kid with postseason experience, and should be a nice fit with us."

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Jaso was the Rays' Opening Day starter last year, and finished his first full season in the Majors batting .224 with 15 doubles, five home runs and 27 RBIs in 246 at-bats.

He started 67 games at catcher -- with 65 of those coming against right-handed pitchers. He started 50 of Tampa Bay's first 90 games, before going on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle that forced him to miss 33 games.

The Mariners appear to be buying low on Jaso, who finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2010, but struggled at times last year. Jaso acknowledged 2011 didn't go as hoped, but he's confident he can contribute in Seattle.

"It was a tough year for me," he said. "I don't know if it was a sophomore thing, mixed with some injuries or what. I had a tough [groin] injury in Spring Training and then an oblique during the season, and those things were pretty hard. I tried to play with the oblique for a while, and it just wasn't working out.

"I could make a bunch of excuses, but I'm not happy with the way things went last season, injuries or not, and I definitely want to be successful and help this team as much as I can."

After his initial shock at being traded by the franchise that drafted him in the 12th round in '04, he said landing in Seattle seems like a good fit. As a native of Chula Vista, Calif., he welcomes a return to the West Coast.

"But mostly, I'm just really excited it's the Mariners -- because that's my favorite ballpark to play in," Jaso said. "I love the field there -- and the city of Seattle, as well. My fiancée came up there for a series last season and we went to the U2 concert, and all that was a great experience.

"I just like the layout. It is a pretty deep park and hard to get a ball out of there. But that's not really the highlight of my game, anyway. I love hitting home runs, don't get me wrong, but that's not my main thing."

Jaso is regarded as a good contact hitter, with 84 walks and just 77 strikeouts in 595 career at-bats with a .340 on-base percentage. He hit in the leadoff spot in six games in 2011 after batting leadoff in 45 games in 2010 -- when he hit .263 with 18 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 44 RBIs in 109 games as a rookie.

While offense has been his calling card coming up through the Minors, Jaso said his defense has been improving and he takes pride in handling pitchers after working with an outstanding staff in Tampa Bay the past two seasons.

"I know there are areas I need to improve defensively, but I feel comfortable back there behind the plate," he said. "I always catch a ballgame to win, and my main intent is to get that 'W' for the pitcher and for the team -- and to keep their ERAs as low as possible."

Jaso will be arbitration-eligible in 2013, and won't become a free agent until 2016. He appeared in five playoff games in 2010 and '11 with the Rays, batting .214 (3-for-14) with one RBI. That postseason experience only whetted Jaso's appetite, and he'd love to help the Mariners reach that level as quickly as possible.

"You get that taste of the playoffs and want to get back there every year," he said. "That's a great thing to have, that greed running in your blood throughout the year, where you have to have those extra games at the end."

To bolster their catching depth, the Mariners parted with a promising young reliever in Lueke. The 26-year-old was acquired from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal in July 2010 and appeared in 25 games as a rookie last season, going 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA in 32 2/3 innings.

The Mariners have some young depth in their bullpen, but were thin in the catching department behind Olivo, who will be entering the final year of his two-year contract in 2012. Moore played just two games last season before injuring his knee and undergoing surgery, though he's back to health now and just completed a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League.

The only other catcher on the Mariners' 40-man roster is Chris Gimenez, a versatile utility player who split time between Triple-A Tacoma and Seattle last year. He hit .203 in 24 games in his first year with Seattle.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.