Rays acquire righty Lueke from Mariners
Dealing Jaso opens room for expected signing of J. Molina
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays announced Sunday night that they had acquired right-handed pitcher Josh Lueke and a player to be named or cash considerations from the Mariners in exchange for catcher John Jaso.
"It's definitely an exciting opportunity," said Lueke during a conference call. "I get to head back east. I haven't really had the opportunity to play on the East Coast since I was with Hickory [N.C., Class A affiliate of the Rangers]. So it's a lot better for my family [which hails from Covington, Ky.] to come and see me."
Lueke, who turns 27 on Dec. 5, broke into the Major Leagues in 2011 with Seattle and was one of the Mariners' most effective relievers over the second half of the season. He made the Mariners' Opening Day roster but was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma in April after allowing 12 runs in 6 1/3 innings over eight appearances. He returned to the Mariners in July and remained with them through the end of the season while pitching to a 3.42 ERA in 17 appearances, allowing 22 hits and seven walks with 21 strikeouts.
"Had a rough start at the beginning of the season, but I was getting adjusted to Major League hitters," Lueke said. "I came back up in July and settled down. Knocked the dust off, [got rid of] the jitters and everything and kind of settled in."
Using primarily a fastball backed by a splitter and a slider, Lueke finished second on the Mariners' staff in relief innings over the last two months of the season. Overall with Seattle in 2011, he appeared in 25 games, compiling a 1-1 record and a 6.06 ERA. In 30 appearances with Tacoma, he was 2-4 with 11 saves and a 2.76 ERA and was named to the midseason Pacific Coast League All-Star Team.
"Josh has the stuff to get hitters out in the American League East and began to show that during the second half of last season," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "We believe he can be an important part of our success here for many years."
In five Minor League seasons with the Mariners and Rangers, he struck out 261 batters in 220 innings over 149 appearances, all in relief. In 2010, he was a combined 5-2 with a career-high 17 saves and a 1.86 ERA while pitching for four different teams at the Class A, Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Lueke was drafted by Texas in the 16th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Northern Kentucky University but was traded to the Mariners in 2010 along with Matthew Lawson, Blake Beavan and Justin Smoak for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe.
Lueke does have a checkered past. He spent 40 days in jail in 2009 after pleading no contest to false imprisonment charges in a Bakersfield, Calif., case involving a woman who alleged she'd been raped after going out drinking with several members of the Class A Bakersfield Blaze in '08.
"That's a thing of the past and I'm kind of just trying to let people meet me and get to know me," Lueke said. "And they can make their own opinion of me like most people have. I'm just going to try and do what I can to help the team and move on and hopefully that eventually just goes away and people quit judging on what they hear and actually get to know me. Then they can make their own opinion on that."
Friedman commented on Lueke's past by saying: "We researched the 2009 incident that Josh was involved in thoroughly and in great detail. We're satisfied that he is going to be the kind of person and teammate that we look for and we expect him to contribute positively to our group."
Jaso, 28, struggled offensively and defensively in 2011. After hitting .263 with five home runs and 44 RBIs in 2010 -- a season that saw him hit leadoff for the Rays in 41 games, the left-handed-hitting native of Chula Vista, Calf., fell to .224 with five home runs and 27 RBIs in 2011. While Jaso's offensive woes raised eyebrows, his defense brought the most concern to the Rays.
In addition to struggling at times to block pitches, Jaso threw out just eight of 58 basestealers in 2011 (13.8 percent), which ranked as the second lowest among qualifying Major League catchers.
Sunday's move appears to validate another move said to be on the horizon for the Rays, who are expected to sign veteran catcher Jose Molina any day.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.