Could Jaso Stay Up with the Rays ?

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I have to be honest here. I have never really considered Rays current Catcher Du Jour John Jaso to be a Major League catcher. I always heard a huge bunch of baloney about his erratic bat motion that even frustrated ESPN analyst and ex-bat wiggler himself Joe Morgan. That the motion Jaso wastes in his swing just before the pitcher releases the ball would tire him out after 4 at bats. And wasn’t it some Rays website somewhere who was throwing the fear of God almighty that Jaso’s defensive indifference would also be a burden if he ever became a full time fixture with the Rays.

Isn’t it great that all that noise about Jaso for some reason has instantly disappeared after he came up and started to produce like a true back-up catcher trying to fulfill a full-time spot with the big club. And I have to say I am not only pleasantly surprised, but I was touched enough by his fine bit of offensive and defensive adjustments that I popped him instantly as the starting catcher in my ESPN Fantasy League. But with Jaso currently sporting a hefty .455 Batting Average and the ability to not only produce runs, but also showing a great amount of plate discipline for a guy on the edge of a roster spot.

And it has been a great surprise, and even a godsend that he has shown the maturity and the ability to make some nice adjustments to his defensive game while he has been up with the Rays to get an extended look by Rays Manager Joe Maddon as he handles every member of this Rays young pitching staff. And this is all from a guy that most people within the organizations stands thought would never be able to produce at this level and might be a Triple-A lifer at best. And I can honestly say I am one of those guys who is glad I was wrong, because Jaso might actually make a decision hard for the Rays after Shoppach gets back behind the dish again soon.

But that also raises a good question as to if he could be a great addition to this Rays team, or is one of those guy who might be a nice plug-in piece for the future, or at least get an extended look in Spring 2011. But with Rays current starter Dioner Navarro in a bit of a slump both offensively and showing some lazy tendencies on defense, could Jaso just be the piece of the puzzle that might click without forcing or taking any momentum from this team. It offers up a good question as to if Navi might have to sweat it out and provide some impressive numbers to remain a fixture on this Rays roster.

And this might be a decision or an idea that the Rays have had in the back of their mind for a bit, but not thinking it might crop up during the season, but in the 2010 off season. With Shoppach in the fold with a two-year contract, and Navarro possibly showing a upper price in the mid $ 2 million range in 2011, could this be the right time for the Rays to dangle Navi to a few teams that are currently in a bit of upheaval over their own catching department.

J Meric / Getty Images

We saw one of those teams recently when the Oakland Athletics came into Tropicana Field and had to use Jake Fox who they got in a trade with the Chicago Cubs this off season behind the dish, and everyone in attendance was looking all throughout the dugout for Kurt Suzuki. Bringing in a experienced backstop would be beneficial to the A’s, and might not take more than a high left-handed reliever in the A’s farm system, and maybe a prospect or two considering the package. It could be a “win-win” situation for the Rays and A’s as they both get some benefit from such a deal.

But then there is another catching carousel going on in the same American League West division as the Texas Rangers are currently playing their own version of musical catchers with the recent demotion of both od their Opening Day catchers Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to their Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City Redhawks. And with the Rangers then picking up the option of Triple-A catcher Max Ramirez, the team is hoping that the tandem of Ramirez and old timer Matt Treanor can finally shore up the Texas backstop. But this might just be a temporary fix, and there might need to be a further look maybe towards Tampa Bay.

And in the 2010 Spring Training Grapefruit League season I was whispering about the Rangers potential problem with the young Teagarden maybe not ready for the full-time MLB reins, and Saltalamacchia maybe too fragile with his curvature of the spin situation to see him do prolonged duties behind the plate more than four starts a week at the most. It might be about time for the Rangers to stop trying to bluff the rest of Major League Baseball and admit they might have been backing the wrong horses.

J Meric / Getty Images

Enter Navarro into the Rangers possible catching equation. He would provide instant credibility and endurance to their line-up, plus get a chance to start again fresh and contribute to a young team and pitching staff that might benefit from his experience. For some reason when I think of Navarro and the Rangers I do see a marriage maybe not made in heaven, but of necessity and mutual want for a clean slate. Again, the price might not be a huge burden here in terms of prospects or maybe even a reliever like Darren O’Day or C J Wilson (lefthander) straight up for Navarro.

It is not like I would be foolish enough to consider a great developing prospect like fireball reliever Neftali Feliz… that would just be plain unimaginable a price for Navarro. But I do think that at some point in 2010, the Rays will consider offers for Navarro considering his salary will jump, plus the Rays would not probably be willing to bank about $5 million dollars in two catchers who basically are bookends offensively, with Shoppach showing a bit more defensive prowess.
And an additional point might be which of them would be a positive mentor for the young Jaso? Instantly the eyes wander straight to Shoppach’s name and the job he did in Cleveland after Victor Martinez headed East with Cleveland’s young catcher Lou Marson.

So maybe when Shoppach completes his rehab assignment and shows he has a healthy outlook for the Rays in 2010, their attention might not be in returning Jaso to Durham for the remainder of the season, but possibly be to find a new home for Navarro and his gear.

And this might just happen due to the extent of the development that Jaso has shown during his short time up with the Rays. If he remains “hot” and can both produce a offensive firestorm at the catching position while also diving on balls and throwing out base runners, Jaso could honestly get a chance to retain some MLB service time in 2010.

Considering he is making the MLB minimum even if he does stay up with the team for the rest of the season, his jump in pay scale will not break the Rays bank, or cause any alarms to go off in Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedmans laptop when considering his salary under the Rays 2011 payroll limits. The Rays have always committed towards fiscal respectability and holding each member of the Rays roster responsible for their actions and production. After Shoppach returns, it just might be time for the Rays to consider cutting the cord with Navarro and letting him find a better suited future somewhere else.

Chris O’Meara/ AP

Catching has never been a position that the Rays could ever say they have been over abundant with talent or power, but right now there might be an indication of a crossroads for one Rays catcher, and who know which direction he will wander next. No matter if Navarro stays and Jaso is returned to Triple-A Durham when Shoppach returns, or a trade keeps Jaso here and sends another catcher to fresh surroundings, this is a huge stepping stone for this franchise to finally know they have the talent and the in-house abilities to even consider such a move well within the season.

I like Navarro as a person. I have talked to him several times and get a good vibe from him most days. But right now it seems that Maddon is trying to let Navarro out himself from this situation or possibly this team. So far Navarro has been a team player who realistically sees that Jaso has the “hot hand” and respectfully gives him the chance to strive.

But with each passing RBI or walk, it also seems like another small seed of doubt or even confidence in Jaso to do the same job without the offensive woes or the defensive catnaps behind the plate. Hopefully no matter what happens, Jaso knows he can finally be considered MLB worthy.


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