Thursday, Amanda Comak of CurlyWLive reported the Washington Nationals acquired catcher Jose Lobaton and two minor leaguers from the Tampa Bay Rays. Left-handed starter Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson were also acquired from Tampa Bay. In exchange, Washington sent right-handed starter Nathan Karns to the Rays. To make room on the Nationals’ 40-man roster for Lobaton, right-handed reliever Erik Davis was placed on the 60-day disabled list (right elbow sprain).
Lobaton has a reputation as good handler of pitchers. Tampa’s staff has been very good the last few years, and he’s been a part of that success. In parts of four major league seasons, he’s at or near league-average as a fielder. His career .993 fielding percentage is exactly at the league average. His career 8.95 range factor per 9 innings is slightly higher than the league average of 8.08. However, his career range factor per game is 7.18, compared to the league average of 8.03. To me, that says the more he plays, the better defensive rhythm he finds (seems intuitive). He’s thrown out 22 would-be base stealers in 136 stolen base attempts in parts of four major league seasons (16% rate). That rate is below league average 26%.
The 2013 season was Lobaton’s most active at the major league level, with 100 games played and 311 plate appearances. His slash line of .320/.394/.714 was slightly better
than his 162-game career average (.311/.343/.654).
Essentially, Washington is getting exactly what they expect – a competent backup catcher. This gives general manager Mike Rizzo a bit more insurance in case starting catcher Wilson Ramos gets injured. Ramos is the best two-way catcher on the roster, but can the team count on him to play 130 or so games this season? Based on his history, backing up Ramos with a usable catcher is a good move.
The Nationals gain some minor league depth in this deal. Rivero was well-regarded in the Tampa Bay system, and his fastball got up to 96 MPH last season. Vettleson has hit pretty well in his short minor-league career, but hasn’t played above high-Class A ball. He may be a player to watch for 2016 or so.
For Karns, who showed promise in 2013, there just wasn’t room for him to compete for a slot in the starting rotation. At best, he may have been ranked ninth among the guys expect to fill out the starting rotation ( behind Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Fister, Ohlendorf, Detwiler, Roark, Jordan). Tampa Bay has a reputation as an organization that will give a younger player a shot, if he can handle it. This may work out well for Karns getting an opportunity to stick with a team at the big league level.
Overall, this deal is another example of how Rizzo is willing to make moves that strengthen the active roster from one to twenty-five. As the season wears on, manager Matt Williams can put Lobaton out there with some assurance that he’ll call a good game for the pitching staff.
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