ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays bolstered their bullpen while continuing the turnover behind the plate Sunday by trading John Jaso to Seattle for right-hander Josh Lueke, who comes with a power arm and a checkered past.
With the signing of veteran free agent Jose Molina expected to be official as soon as today, the Rays will have essentially a new catching tandem, with switch-hitter Jose Lobaton most likely to share time.
Lueke, 27 next month, went 1-1, 6.06 in 25 games for the Mariners as a 2011 rookie, struggling in April then pitching better (3.42 in 17 games) after a three-month stint at Triple A.
While a Texas minor-leaguer in 2009, Lueke pleaded no contest to a charge of false imprisonment with violence — reduced from rape and sodomy — stemming from a May 2008 incident in Bakersfield, Calif., and was sentenced to 40 days in jail, which he had served.
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the Rays looked "thoroughly" into the incident. "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," Friedman said.
Lueke said he has put it behind him: "I'm trying to do what I can do for the team and move on. Hopefully that eventually just goes away and people quit judging on what they're hearing and actually get to know me and they can make their own opinion on that."
Neither the Rangers nor Mariners, who acquired Lueke in July 2010, have reported any additional issues.
Lueke has three effective pitches — fastball, slider, split-finger — and said he gained the confidence to succeed in the majors. Friedman agreed: "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. We believe he can be an important part of our success here for many years."
Jaso, who hit .224 and threw out 8 of 58 baserunners in a poor 2011, was caught off guard by the deal, which also nets the Rays a minor-leaguer or cash: "It was a really big shock."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]