There is no better hitter on the Mariners than John Jaso. That may be a bit of a dubious honor for any hitter, and for the Mariners, perhaps an indictment of the young talent they’ve had in recent years, but nonetheless, Jaso has outperformed every Mariner hitter this year.
Anyone who has read this blog knows that I’m a big Jaso proponent. I loved when he got traded for. I projected he’d be much better than last year. And here he is, he’s playing really well. He rarely strikes out, and he walks a lot. He hits a lot of line drives, and even though the fences at Safeco are perhaps further out than they will be next year, his approach has been successful so far this year. In fact, he’s better at Safeco this year than he is on the road.
John Jaso is Safeco-proof.
Jaso is hitting .294/.417/.500 at Safeco Field compared to .266/.344/.443 on the road. None of this, though, is to intentionally wax poetically about Jaso. But rather, to illustrate why the Mariners can’t afford to get rid of Jaso’s bat in the lineup next year.
Anyone with illusions that Jesus Montero is an everyday catcher long term is likely mistaken. In fact, that Montero is still playing catcher after receiving a concussion is about as asinine a decision as I can think of.
A very simple solution would be to just allow Jaso to be the team’s regular catcher next year. Let him play really well, and then trade him at the end of the season. Offensive catchers are hard to find, and Jaso is still in his 20s with a lot of team control left, and thus he’s relatively cost controlled.
Jaso isn’t the “catcher of the future.” The Mariners drafted Mike Zunino third overall, and as a guy that comes into the majors after his junior season at Florida, Zunino figures to move to the majors by the end of 2014, and is a better defensive catcher than either Jaso or Montero.
So while the Mariners have three more years of team control with Jaso, he’s probably looking at a platoon role within the next 18 months. And with Zunino in place, Jaso would be handing the small part of a platoon, though his handedness would traditionally make him the larger part. It’s almost unavoidable for Jaso to end up having a large part of what would be a full-time role be supplemented by Zunino, and thus have Jaso’s playing time reduced considerably.
But it doesn’t necessary have to be that way.
John Jaso should be the Mariners starting first baseman immediately, and to start next season. Justin Smoak has been nothing short of bad, and even though he’s a switch hitter and that may factor into his rough introduction to the big leagues, the chances of him reviving his potential at this point are pretty slim. He hurts the team right now, and it is a team that is dire need of offensive help. Smoak has been 17 percent worse than league average since coming up to the big leagues with Texas in 2010. I italicized “league average” because that includes shortstops and center fielders, and everybody. Fucking everybody. He’s almost 30 percent worse than the average first baseman since coming up.
Smoak has received 1251 plate appearances to this point in his career, and he hasn’t figured it out. It’s important to note that 851 of those plate appearances have come against righties, so Smoak batted from the left hand side, and he’s been bad, posting an 89 wRC+ against righties on his better side.
Jaso played some of his minor league career at first base, and was taking grounders there before games when Miguel Olivo pulled his groin and forced the Mariners to be conservative with the way they used Jaso so as not to end up being forced to play Munenori Kawasaki at catcher in a pinch.
It’s time to revisit that idea.
And if Jaso plays first base, the team wouldn’t lose out on the opportunity to move him to catcher in a circumstance where they decided to pinch-run for Jesus Montero, or whoever the catcher is next year. They could play Jaso there without losing the DH spot.
I’m not crazy though, I understand that Jaso is limited. He’s pretty bad agaisnt lefties. But finding a platoon partner that is a right-handed guy at the end of his career that can be servicable at first, and can hit lefties alright is a lot easier to do that trying to convince a guy like Mike Napoli or Prince Fielder to come to Seattle. For example, Juan Rivera is a guy with 600 innings at first base in his career, the ability to stumble around in the outfield a bit, and he’s got a career 114 wRC+ against lefties. He’ll be in low demand this offseason, and is about an ideal fit for what the Mariners will be looking for in a low-cost part time player.
If we project Jaso and his career 117 wRC+ against righties with Juan Rivera’s career 114 wRC+ against lefties in a platoon, and account for some incidental crossover, we still would likely come out with a combined wRC+ of somewhere around 110. That would be about a league average first baseman in the combination of Rivera and Jaso, but a near-thirty percent increase in production for the Mariners compared to the production they’ve received at the position the last three years.
And it doesn’t have to be Rivera. Rivera isn’t special. It could be Ty Wigginton, or Conor Jackson, or whoever. The whole point of this is that those guys are easy to find, and could become major upgrades for the Mariners. And while using two guys to fill one position can create roster issues, all of the guys I mentioned and generally all of the guys that fit that profile, have nominal versatility, having played some other position to some level of success for some large amount of innings. And considering how important the first base position is offensively, and how bad the Mariners have been at that position in recent years, spending minimal dollars and two roster spots to get a 30 percent upgrade is hardly innefficient.
By the way, wRC+ is park adjusted, which means that it attempts to nuetralize the effects of Safeco Field. That isn’t a fail safe, but it certainly reduces the chances of me being wrong after making inferences from that data.
The reality is that Justin Smoak has done nothing to show that he’s the answer at first base. And while a demotion to Tacoma may not “help him” it would almost certainly help the team. And the most logical fit on the roster right now, and even perhaps in the organization presently, is John Jaso.