A's upgrade at catcher in three-team, five player swap

A's upgrade at catcher in three-team, five player swap
January 16, 2013, 5:00 pm
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OAKLAND -- The Oakland Athletics have engaged in a three-team swap with the Mariners and Nationals that landed them catcher John Jaso from Seattle. As a part of the deal Oakland is sending right-handed pitchers A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen and a player to be named later to the Nationals. To make room on the roster they have designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment.

The move is a sign that Oakland is willing to do whatever they can to defend their division crown in 2013.

"There's no sense straddling the fence, the club was good enough to win the A.L. West last year," A's general manager Billy Beane said by phone Wednesday night. "I think we should do everything we can to give them every advantage we can."

Jaso, 29, is a left-handed hitting catcher, and looks like a platoon option for the A's. Last season he hit .302 with 10 homers, 47 RBI, and had a .419 on-base percentage, and .508 slugging percentage against right-handed pitching. Against southpaws, however, he only hit .119 with a .250 OBP, and had just three RBI.

"This guy really came into his own last year as a hitter and we think he is really a good fit in the lineup, particularly if you combine his patience, the developing power, and the contact rate is pretty unique," Beane said.

Up until these reports surfaced the A's said they were confident in their catching tandem of Derek Norris and George Kottaras. Norris, a righty, and Kottaras, a lefty, were part of a platoon last season for the A's. The addition of Jaso suggests they plan to keep Norris around while upgrading the lefty portion of the duo.

"We think he and Derek will make a nice combination," Beane said. "I'm sure Bob [Melvin] will play it day-by-day with match ups, but if you are looking at strictly a lefty/righty basis, they certainly compliment each other pretty well."

Kottaras just signed a one-year deal with the A's to avoid arbitration, while Jaso was one of 133 Major League players to file for arbitration on Tuesday. Jaso, who caught Felix Hernandez' perfect game last season, is said to be very diligent in his preparation prior to starts. One Major League scout told me that he is "a much better player" than Kottaras.

Cole is currently listed as the third best prospect in the A's system by Baseball America. He was part of the package sent to Oakland in exchange for Gio Gonzalez last offseason. He now returns to the Nationals' farm system.

It seems like a high price to give up for a part-time catcher. While many recognize the talent level of Cole, he did struggle last season in Stockton, where he was 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA in his first eight starts. He rebounded nicely with a 6-3 record and a 2.07 ERA in 19 starts in Single-A Burlington. The A's have an excess of pitching depth to deal from, so that would explain their willingness to part with one of their highest ranked pitching prospects for a marginal upgrade to the club's 25-man roster.

"It's always difficult," Beane said of dealing a top prospect like Cole, "But I've always felt like we either had a good team and you're trying to make it better and do everything you can, or you're trying to build one. That's sort of the situation we're in. "

Naturally, there is a certain level of fan-based panic involved when shipping off a highly ranked prospect. Keep in mind that Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and A.J. Griffin are all in the A's current big league rotation and not really considered prospects anymore. Otherwise, they would all probably rank ahead of Cole, and take away his designation as the top pitching prospect in the organization.

"Our major league team is very young, so in some respects we benefit from the fact that a lot of our prospects are contributing Major League players, which buys some time to generate a player development system," Beane added.

This is also a sign that the A's are looking for ways -- even minor ones -- to upgrade the team to win now. It would have been a major stretch to believe Cole would find a way into the A's rotation in 2013. Sure, Griffin and Dan Straily took massive leaps last season, but it rarely happens that quickly.

Treinen, 24, spent the entire 2012 season in Stockton serving time as a starting pitcher and reliever. He was 7-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 103 innings. Joining Treinen and Cole in Washington will be a player to be named later. Based on the high price the A's paid to get Jaso, don't expect that player to be a high-value prospect.

"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," Beane said.

Oakland now has four arbitration eligible players on their roster. Jaso, Seth Smith, Jerry Blevins, and Brandon Moss.

The Mariners acquired outfielder Michael Morse from the Nationals in the trade. Morse spent parts of four season on the Mariners big league roster but found success with the Washington Nationals.

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