Oct 7, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Lobaton (59) reacts after he hit a walk off home run during the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox of game three of the American League divisional series at Tropicana Field. The Rays won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
General manager Mike Rizzo seemed to have addressed this issue early on in the offseason, signing veteran backstop Chris Snyder to a minor league deal with the expectation that he would compete with Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano for the job. Rizzo also signed Koyie Hill to make the competition even tougher. Despite these signings, it looks like Mike Rizzo is not done yet.
The Washington Nationals are reportedly in talks with the Tampa Bay Rays about a trade that would send RHP Nathan Karns to Tampa, in exchange for catcher Jose Lobaton. The deal could involve other players as well.
Last week, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reported that the sides had been discussing a deal for a month but they had been unable to agree on what players the Rays would receive in the deal.
Lobaton has drawn interest from several teams since he became available after the Rays signed free agent Jose Molina and traded for Ryan Hanigan. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the D-backs, Indians, Rockies, White Sox and Mets are also in the mix for Lobaton’s services.
Lobaton hit .249 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs in 100 games with the Rays in 2013. The 29-year-old catcher has a .228 batting average in parts of four major league seasons with the Rays and the Padres.
Karns, 26, posted 7.50 ERA in three starts for the Nationals last season over which he was worth -0.4 fWAR. At Double-A Harrisburg, the right hander posted a 3.26 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 48 walks and 155 strikeouts in 132 1/3 IP.
If the rumors are true, this would be a great deal for the Nationals as Lobaton would be a highly capable back up for the oft-injured Wilson Ramos. Rizzo has been looking for a backup catcher all offseason, and even though he is confident with the guys he already has, he has not closed the door on trading for a backup catcher.
"“We’re looking for value wherever we can find it,” Rizzo told Federal Baseball reporters at NatsFest. “If a backup catcher that fits what we’re trying to do were to become available, we certainly would look into it. We like the pack of guys that are going to compete for it, [Jhonatan] Solano, [Sandy] Leon and Chris Snyder. We feel that they are very, very capable backups and with so many teams in the big leagues looking for a good catcher, we feel that we’ve got a great catcher in Wilson Ramos and capable backups to go behind him.”"
If the Nationals land Lobaton, he would likely be the front-runner for the backup catcher job during Spring Training. Lobaton has more recent big league experience than the teams’ other options and he has the offensive ability to replace Ramos if he were to be out for an extended amount of time.
As great as this deal sounds right now, I find it hard to believe that the Rays would give up Lobaton for Karns straight up. Then again, the Nationals have already pulled off one crazy trade this offseason. We should find out later this week if general manager Mike Rizzo does in fact have another trick up his sleeve.