The Pittsburgh Pirates announced on Wednesday evening that they have signed first baseman John Jaso to a two-year contract. The 32-year-old left-handed hitter spent 2015 with Tampa Bay, posting a .286/.380/.459 slash line in 70 games. He was announced as a 1B/OF, though he has only played five innings at first base in the majors, spending most of his time as a catcher. Terms of the deal have not yet been announced.
During his seven seasons in the majors, spent with Tampa, Seattle and Oakland, Jaso has a .263/.361/.406 slash line in 550 games. His best season came in 2012 when he posted an .850 OPS over 108 games, but the 2015 season wasn’t far behind. Since he was announced as a first baseman, you can expect that he will be the left side of a platoon over at first base, possibly getting time in the outfield and serving as an emergency catcher. Jaso was on the disabled list early in the 2015 season for a wrist injury and didn’t return until early July.
Ken Rosenthal announced that it’s a 2/$8M deal, which basically means the Pirates traded one year of Pedro Alvarez for two seasons of Jaso.
Source: Jaso deal with #Pirates is two years, $8M.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 23, 2015
Neal Huntington had this to say about Jaso:
“John Jaso is a proven Major League hitter who is a great complement to our existing lineup. John is enthusiastic about playing in Pittsburgh and developing as a first baseman. We feel he has the ability to play the position at the major league level, while adding significantly to our offensive production.”
UPDATE 5:18 PM: Analysis from Tim Williams…
First of all, credit to Eno Sarris at FanGraphs for calling this move about a week ago. Well, he didn’t exactly call it, but he did say that Jaso would be his choice to solve the first base situation in Pittsburgh. He also liked Juan Nicasio and Allen Webster before the Pirates added them, making me think Eno Sarris is secretly Neal Huntington in disguise. Anyway, for his analysis, pre-move, check out the link above.
There are two aspects to this deal: the offensive upside and the defensive uncertainty.
Taking a look at the offense first, there’s a lot to like about Jaso. In his career, he has a .342 wOBA and 120 wRC+. Compare that to the career numbers from Pedro Alvarez (.324/106) and it’s easy to see that two years and $8 M of Jaso is much better than one year and $8 M from Alvarez.
Defensively, Jaso has only played 20 innings in his career at first base. So he’s largely unproven. That said, it will be difficult to be worse than Pedro Alvarez was last year, and his time as a former catcher should help him, since the catcher-to-first base transition is more common and seems to be easier.
Jaso’s role will be a left-handed hitting member of the first base platoon. The Pirates have two interesting options from the right side in Michael Morse and Jason Rogers. Their career numbers:
Morse: .346 wOBA/119 wRC+
Rogers (179 PA):.345/115
That would be their overall numbers. Looking at the career numbers against left-handers only (which would be their role), we get the following:
The interesting thing is that Rogers actually has reverse splits, although we go from a small sample to a much smaller sample when breaking this down. He’s been good against lefties in the minors, so he should be good in the platoon role.
The big appeal here is Jaso. Here is how he stacks up against right-handers, compared to other left-handed hitters, via Forbes to Federal:
best left-handed hitters vs. right-handed pitchers, past four seasons, by wRC+ pic.twitter.com/FtwpJgo1Wb
— Forbes to Federal (@ForbesToFederal) December 23, 2015
If those numbers hold up, then the Pirates just got a steal on offense when it comes to hitters from the left side of the plate. He doesn’t have the power that Pedro Alvarez has, but in terms of overall offense, Jaso is much better. And I can’t see how the defense would be any worse than last year’s production.
At $4 M per year (assuming it’s divided equally), the Pirates are at about $95 M in payroll for the 2016 season. This move also won’t block Josh Bell in the future, but will give the Pirates a really strong left-handed bat off the bench who can serve as the emergency catcher, backup first base, and play some outfield.
UPDATE 7:13 PM: The Pirates have outrighted Jorge Rondon to Triple-A, per a team press release. I don’t know if this was the corresponding move, as Rondon would have been waived a few days before this. It does clear a space on the 40-man roster for Jaso, and keeps Rondon in the organization as bullpen depth.