A’s Deal Pitchers of the Future for Catcher of the Present
It was announced on Wednesday that the A’s had acquired catcher John Jaso from the Seattle Mariners as part of a three-team deal that sent A’s minor league pitchers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen, along with a player to be named later, to the Washington Nationals, who sent first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse to the Mariners. As a result of the trade, catcher George Kottaras, who had just signed a $1 million deal with the A’s earlier in the week, was designated for assignment. Kottaras, and his contract, will presumably be traded by the A’s sometime within the next ten days.
The left-handed hitting Kottaras became expendable with the arrival of Jaso, who also bats left-handed. Kottaras and the right-handed hitting Derek Norris were expected to split the A’s catching duties fairly evenly in 2013. But with Jaso, who hits right-handers far better than he handles left-handers, now in the fold, the arrangement is likely to become much more of a strict platoon, with Jaso getting most of the starts against right-handed pitchers and Norris getting most of the starts against left-handers – who represent no more than a quarter of all major league starters. This will give the 23-year-old Norris the chance to develop at his own pace, without the pressure of having to carry too much of the load right away.
Many A’s fans had been clamoring for an upgrade behind the plate, and this deal gives them just that. But some hard-core A’s followers were upset that the team gave up so much promising young pitching talent in the trade. The loss of Cole, who came over just last year in the Gio Gonzalez deal with the Nationals (to whom he now returns), particularly rankled many fans. The 21-year-old right-hander was considered one of the A’s top three pitching prospects, along with Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray, while Blake Treinen was the A’s 7th-round draft pick in 2011.
The 24-year-old Treinen was a little inconsistent at High-A Stockton last year. While he had a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, he posted an ERA of 4.37 and gave up a little over 10 hits per 9 innings while barely managing 100 innings between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Meanwhile, Cole had a disastrous start to his season at Stockton, going winless in 8 starts while compiling an astronomical ERA of 7.82. But after being sent down to Class-A Burlington in the Midwest League, he bounced back to post an impressive 2.07 ERA while striking out 102 in 95 2/3 innings. And his late-season turnaround gave many A’s fans great hope for his future.
The bottom line though is that neither of these two pitchers has ever thrown a pitch above A ball. And while they may one day develop into quality pitchers, they both still have a long way to go. The 29-year-old Jaso may not be an All-Star, but he is a major leaguer, and at least the A’s feel they know what they’re getting with him. The team clearly preferred a major league catcher in the hand to two minor leaguers in the bush leagues!
As for Jaso’s past performance, since he’ll really only be expected to carry the load against right-handed pitchers, the fact that he’s never shown any ability to hit left-handers is irrelevant. All that really matters is what he can do against righties. And last year, Jaso carried an impressive .302/.419/.508 slash line against right-handers. That’s compared to Kottaras’s .207/.335/.434 slash line against righties last year. Though neither Jaso nor Kottaras is likely to win any Gold Gloves, it’s a clear upgrade at the plate from the catching position for the A’s.
Jaso has a particular knack for getting on base – last year he walked an average of once every 6 plate appearances against right-handers while batting over .300 against them. He also has a knack for hitting doubles – last year Jaso doubled once every 15 ½ at-bats while Kottaras doubled just once every 28 ½ at-bats. So if nothing else, the A’s should expect to see Jaso standing on first base and second base a lot more than they saw Kottaras at those two locations!
The main conclusion that can be drawn from this deal though is that A’s general manager Billy Beane wants to win now! If he can unload part of the A’s pitching future to make an upgrade to the major league roster, he’s not going to hesitate to do it. If the A’s had finished in last place last year, it might be another matter and this deal might not have happened. But the A’s were the A.L. West champions last year, and you better believe that Billy Beane wants to turn them into the two-time A.L. West champions.
Beane clearly stated as much in a post-trade conference call with reporters when he said, “We’re shifting all of our focus on the major league club and trying to take as much advantage as we can of the opportunity we have.” In other words, “Win now!” – which, after having endured some years of rebuilding, ought to be a welcome rallying cry for most A’s fans!