Spring Training for Washington Nationals‘ pitchers and catchers opens today, and the team does not have many holes left to fill. The most compelling competitions this spring will most likely be for the fifth starter spot, the last couple spots in the Nationals bullpen, and perhaps who backs up Wilson Ramos at catcher.
The incumbents are, of course, Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano, with minor league invites Chris Snyder, Koyie Hill and others looking to dethrone one of them. The catcher competition could become a non-story very quickly, however, if certain chips fall into place.
Rumors have been swirling recently regarding the Tampa Bay Rays and Nationals, who are believed to be in discussions involving 29-year old catcher Jose Lobaton. Lobaton has been the backup to Jose Molina in Tampa Bay for a few years now, and his workload has increased every year he has been in the league. Last season, in 100 games, Lobaton slashed .249/.320/.394 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs.
Compare that to Leon and Solano’s combined numbers, which sit at .237/.315/.336 with a combined two home runs and 10 RBIs. Now, those numbers can be considered slightly skewed because of the presence of Kurt Suzuki for most of the past two seasons, but they don’t exactly strike confidence in fans.
A deal for Lobaton makes perfect sense for so many reasons, and the potential offensive production is really just the beginning. First off, the Rays also acquired Ryan Hanigan this winter, so the Nationals are not in a situation where they need to try incredibly hard to pry Lobaton from the Rays since they do not have a spot for him anyway.
Also, the rumor is that Nate Karns could be included in the deal from Washington’s end, which is not much of a loss to be completely honest. Karns, in my opinion, was not incredibly impressive in his two starts in 2013, in which he did not last more than four innings in either and pitched to a ERA over 7.00.
With Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Ross Detwiler all in front of Karns, combined with the fact that many believe Karns’ future is as a reliever, it would make a lot of sense if he was dealt since he really doesn’t have a chance at making the rotation or the major leagues roster anyway.
The Nationals can make this deal on their terms, and in a deal with the Rays, that is a lot of leverage. They do not desperately need Lobaton; they probably will not part with much, and if they acquire him, it would be a great addition. If not, they have enough candidates in camp to win the job, though there is little doubt that Lobaton would be an upgrade.