THURSDAY: The potential deal includes at least two other players, possibly minor leaguers that would head to Washington, reports Topkin. As of last night, however, Lobaton told Topkin that he had yet to hear anything and was planning to report for the spring with the Rays on Friday.
WEDNESDAY: The Rays and Nationals are again discussing a trade of catcher Jose Lobaton, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, with righty Nate Karns being contemplated as the return for the backstop. Topkin says that the deal could involve other players as well.
Lobaton, 29, has reportedly generated interest amongst multiple clubs, especially a Nationals team that would still like to add an established backup catcher. A switch-hitter, Lobaton has seen about twice as many plate appearances against righties than against lefties, maintaining fairly even splits from both sides of the plate. He is a fairly attractive asset, particularly given that he is owed just $900K this year and comes with three more years of control through arbitration. While Lobaton's contract profile makes him a fit for Tampa's general approach to roster-construction, he became expendable when the team picked up Ryan Hanigan from the Reds. Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lobaton managed a .249/.320/.394 line, good for a league average OPS.
Karns, meanwhile, is a 26-year-old who has yet to see substantial MLB action, but has a big arm. Baseball America rates him at the back end of the club's top ten prospects, after several other young arms. But the Nats have already dealt one relatively advanced pitcher from that list in Robbie Ray, and Karns was said to have a shot at competing for the team's fifth rotation spot. (If that failed, Karns would presumably serve as depth, especially with the news that Taylor Jordan could be slow to start the spring after ankle surgery.) In 132 2/3 Double-A innings last year, Karns put up a 3.26 ERA and 10.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. He received three MLB starts last year, struggling to a 7.50 ERA in just 12 innings.
Should a deal go down along the lines suggested by Topkin, it would follow a similar pattern (on a somewhat smaller scale) to other recent deals in which Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has swapped out pitching prospects for relatively youthful, established, cost-controlled big-leaguers. In addition to shipping Ray (and more) to the Tigers for starter Doug Fister, Rizzo sent Alex Meyer to the Twins last year in exchange for center fielder Denard Span. (The Nats also acquired reliever Jerry Blevins in exchange for prospect Billy Burns this off-season.)