Billy Beane is definitely still active this offseason. Today, the A's appear to have improved another deficiency by acquiring catcher John Jaso from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for two minor league players (A.J. Cole and and Blake Treinen) and the always curious player to be named later (news via Jane Lee of MLB.com, among others). For what it's worth, Seattle acquired slugging outfielder Michael Morse from the Washington Nationals, and the three Oakland players will be headed to D.C.
In the short term, this is a nice move for the A's. Like the shortstop position, Oakland's catchers were not very productive at the plate in 2012. Kurt Suzuki, Derek Norris and George Kottaras combined to hit a grand total of .204 last year. There was some pop with 14 home runs and 69 RBI's, but the splits of .204/.262/.325 and the resulting .587 OPS were among the worst in baseball.
So acquiring a proven Major Leaguer like Jaso serves to address one of the few deficiencies Oakland had last year. Jaso had a career year, hitting .276 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI's in 108 games played with Seattle in 2012. A career .255 hitter, Jaso's numbers improve away from the cavernous Safeco Field (career .271 road hitter). That could prove to be a harbinger of success, though of course, the Oakland Coliseum is not exactly a hitter friendly haven either.
Who should the A's projected starter at catcher be?
The downside (and there is always one in a trade) is that the A's send A.J. Cole back to Washington. Cole's numbers were downright putrid in Single-A Stockton (0-7, 7.82 ERA) but he's all of 20 years old and is a top 50-60 prospect for a reason. That said, he was not likely to help the A's for at least two years and with the amount of pitching the A's possess, this was a smart move.
As for Treinen, the seventh round pick in 2011 showed flashes down at Stockton, but is much in the same position as Cole in terms of his potential to actually help the big club. Solid arm, but I would not treat it as a potential calamity down the line.
So, is John Jaso a top 10 catcher? Probably not. But did the A's vastly improve their backstop position offensively? I'd say unequivocally, yes. Jaso is a professional hitter (more career walks than strikeouts) and gives the A's that much more balance to their 2013 lineup. Defensively, he is a bit more than adequate, which fits right in line with Derek Norris.
And best of all, Jaso brings versatility. Don't be surprised if manager Bob Melvin uses Jaso as an alternative to Seth Smith at designated hitter. Of his 108 starts in 2012, 47 were at DH for the Mariners. Granted, they had a much lesser lineup than the A's did, but it is another option nonetheless. If I had to grade this deal, I'd give it a solid B+ with the opportunity of an A, assuming Jaso's production is somewhat similar to 2012.