In the 2011 off-season, the Seattle Mariners opted to make a trade to acquire a catcher. The M's pitching was okay, but they had fewer hits than The New Radicals so it made sense to deal pitching for hitting. Luckily, the catcher came in and led the Mariners in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS (obviously), and was the only player on the roster to walk more than he struck out.
Thank God for John Jaso.
Of course, the catcher that was supposed to immediately become Seattle's best hitter and the future at catcher was not Jaso, but Jesus Montero. There were only a handful, if any, prospects in the minors that had the potential ceiling to hit as well as Montero. In regards to that one aspect of baseball, "the hit tool", he was a dream.
Unfortunately, 2012 was the wake-up call.
There were rumors that when the Mariners dealt Cliff Lee to the Rangers for Justin Smoak and change, that it had happened right after Seattle backed out of an offer of Montero from the Yankees. At the time, it was just a rumor. After they finally dealt Michael Pineda and Jose Campos for Montero and Hector Noesi, it seemed to give validity to the argument that they highly desired the "catcher."
The defensive arguments against Montero have so far been valid, as well. He caught just 17% of base-stealers (league average 25%) and made 22 more starts at DH than he did behind the plate. (NL Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina allowed 38 SB with 35 CS in 1,161.1 innings. Montero allowed 54 SB and 11 CS in only 487.2 innings.) Unfortunately, Montero's propensity for hitting has not rang true.
At just 22 (23 later this month) there is plenty of time for Montero to get better, and just maybe moving those fences in will make it a little bit easier. How can we make it a lot bit easier, though?
Here is the best and worst of Montero and Jaso:
The Best: May 19 - Jun 17, 25 G, .306/.355/.469, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 7 2B, 18 K/ 7 BB, .346 BABIP
The Worst: Aug 13 - Oct 1, 35 G, .213/.236/.301, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 3 2B, 19 K/ 5 BB, .222 BABIP
Montero finished the year hitting .260/.298/.386 and he honestly never strayed too far up or down from his final OPS of .685. He'd slump, then he'd rack up a few hits, then he'd slump again. There weren't a lot of long peaks or valleys. You can find several four or five game stretches this year where Montero racked up a few multi-hit games, you can find some longer stretches where he only managed a couple singles.
What is really evident is the lack of speed and awkward running style, and Montero did not have a single game this year with multiple doubles. Overall, just 20 times this season did he hit a baseball and then waddle from home plate to second base as the ball floated far enough away that it might have been 20 triples for a faster player. (Not a fast player, a faster player.) Not surprisingly, he can't walk either. Montero played in 135 games, walked 29 times, and only had one game where he walked more than once.
We just got rid of Miguel Olivo, we don't need to find his replacement.
There are things to like about Montero:
- He hit .322/.366/.463 against left-handers
- He hit .295/.330/.438 on the road
- He actually hit .310/.343/.498 as a catcher, .226/.265/.309 as DH
- He was 22, he kind of was a catcher, played half his games in the worst park for hitters, and wasn't the complete worst.
Jeff Sullivan, a smarter man than I, detailed more of the good news and bad news surrounding Montero.
The really bad news for me would be that Montero doesn't hit for enough power to justify his low walks, or that he doesn't improve his plate discipline and his home runs top out at 25. He needs to generate a lot more power and be a much better hitter, because he's probably not a catcher. He's only asked to do one thing well, and he's not doing it well enough.
He'll only be 23, he's got a "new" home ballpark, there's still plenty of time to ride this out. Hopefully the best case scenario isn't on second base though, because it will take awhile for Montero to get there.
The Best: May 17 - Aug 17, 56 G, .305/.432/.523, 7 HR, 30 RBI, 10 2B, 3 SB, 29 K/ 34 BB, .331 BABIP
The Worst: Against lefties - 5-for-42, .119/.250/.143, 9 K/ 6 BB
The M's traded away probably their best trading chip besides Felix Hernandez or Dustin Ackley in order to get Montero. They traded away Josh Lueke (going back to the "and change" of the Smoak deal) to get Jaso. If you look at his numbers without bias, he's one of the best hitters in the American League.
With bias, he's not proven to be a complete, every day player.
Jaso batted almost six times as much against righties as he did lefties, and he didn't do anything against the southpaws. That's an issue, that takes him out of a significant portion of games and obviously means that he'll likely never be able to do anything other than platoon. The good news is that not only does Jaso kill righties (and that RHP are more common) but that he didn't suck at Safeco.
Jaso actually hit better at home:
.276/.408/.469 at Safeco
.275/.381/.443 everywhere else
Defensively, there's not much to suggest that Jaso is much better at catching than Montero is. Ideally, you might just assume that the plan in the future is a Mike Zunino/Jaso platoon, but anything like that doesn't have to be decided on right now. What matters is that Seattle got their best hitter by trading away a reliever that would likely never pitch for them again anyway.
The Rays are smart. In this deal, Jack Zduriencik looks smarter.