Nationals Acquire Jose Lobaton For Nate Karns

The Nationals have officially acquired catcher Jose Lobaton and two prospects from the Rays in exchange for pitcher Nate Karns. Along with Lobaton, the Nationals will pick up a pair of 22-year-olds that played at the High-A level last year: lefty Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson. Washington placed Erik Davis on the 60-day DL (right elbow strain) to clear 40-man roster space for Rivero.


Lobaton is a 29-year-old backstop who figures to slot in behind Nats' incumbent Wilson Ramos on the depth chart. A switch-hitter, Lobaton will presumably see much of his time against righties. Indeed, that has been the case for most of his time in the big leagues, though he has hit from both sides of the plate at roughly the same rate over his career.

Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lobaton managed a .249/.320/.394 line, good for a league average OPS that plays nicely from the catching position. In addition to offering a left-handed hitting option, Lobaton appeals due to his affordable $900K salary this year and the fact that he can be controlled for three more seasons through arbitration. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted earlier this month, however, the Venezuelan native's defensive metrics provide cause for some concern.

The 26-year-old Karns underwent shoulder surgery early in his career and just reached the big leagues for three starts last year. Throwing 132 2/3 innings at the Double-A level last year, he put up a 3.26 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9.

Karns is a well-regarded prospect with a big arm, but questions remain whether he will stick in the rotation. Baseball America placed him at the ninth spot among the Nationals' top ten prospects. He had been expected to have an outside chance at earning a rotation spot in D.C., but otherwise would likely have served as minor league depth. Instead, he will presumably find himself facing a similar proposition in Tampa, whose fifth-starter options are perhaps led by 23-year-old prospect Jake Odorizzi.

The prospect return to Washington surely plays an important role in this deal. The southpaw Rivero, who landed at 17th on the BA list this year and 20th last year, threw to a 3.40 ERA in 127 innings at High-A last year, posting 6.4 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. Rivero has a slight build but reportedly delivers a fastball that touches the mid-90s and carries mid-rotation upside. He occupied a 40-man slot in Tampa. The Nationals had success with a similarly youthful lefty acquired via trade last year, getting some production out of Ian Krol before flipping him in the Doug Fister trade.

Vettleson — the 42nd overall choice in the 2010 draft — also placed amongst the Rays' top thirty prospects. Gaining the 11th overall slot last year, he fell to 20th on this year's version after a .274/.331/.388 campaign at High-A. He knocked just four home runs a year after hitting 15 at the low-A level in 2012, and also swiped only five bases after netting 20 over the prior campaign. Vettleson profiles as a right fielder, with decent legs and a good arm. Baseball America says that, if his power develops as he fills out, and he improves his jumps on the bases and defensive routes, the left-handed hitter could end up with a solid all-around tool set.

The deal shapes up to be a swap of somewhat redundant assets. For Tampa, Lobaton had no obvious role going forward after the Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan from the Reds earlier in the off-season. Meanwhile, the club learned that starter Jeremy Hellickson would miss the early part of the year due to injury. Though Rivero could potentially have a similar ceiling to Karns, the latter is certainly a more established player who is much closer to making a contribution at the MLB level. Even if he does not earn a rotation slot, he could contribute in the pen sooner rather than later.

From the Nationals' perspective, the price was likely easier to bear given presence of other young, MLB-ready starting options (including Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, in addition to the more established Ross Detwiler) as well as several other solid arms moving through the system. (To say nothing of the fact that the team already has a strong, young, current MLB rotation that is under control for at least two years.) Though Washington had already traded one well-regarded young starter earlier in the off-season when it sent Robbie Ray (among others) to the Tigers for Fister, Karns did not have a clear place on the big league club and was something of a wasting asset in the minors given his age. By picking up younger talent in the deal, the club managed to maintain a reasonable portion of its talent base while shifting its promotion timeline in a potentially beneficial manner, all while adding a solid piece to the MLB roster.'s Bill Ladson first reported the deal (via Twitter). Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported the structure of the deal in its negotiating phase on Twitter. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reported (via Twitter) that Karns had been told he was traded to the Rays. Topkin first reported that two minor leaguers would also head to the Nats (via Twitter), and Kilgore tweeted that those names were amongst the Rays' top thirty prospects. Chris Cotillo of first reported on Twitter that Rivero was included in the deal.

66 Responses to Nationals Acquire Jose Lobaton For Nate Karns Leave a Reply

  1. The Rays had no room for Lobaton and were able to trade him off for a quality RH pitcher with some upside. Looks like another solid Rays move.

    • GrayhawkAZ 1 year ago

      Trade isn’t done yet

      • Good point, it depends on the rest of the pieces involved, but I think both teams will improve from this trade.

        • amoreperfectunion 1 year ago

          Lobaton *and* two prospects for Karns? Seems a bit steep.

    • Joey 1 year ago

      This is absolutely awful for the Rays. Friedman just got “Friedman-ed”. How the heck can we include Vettleson and or Rivero? Neither let alone both should’ve been in this deal. I hate it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Joey 1 year ago

        I wouldn’t make straight up trades of Vettleson or Rivero for Karns, take Lobaton completely out of the equation….That’s how much I hate this trade!!!!!!!!!!!

        • espierce 1 year ago

          Joey, when has Friedman made a bad deal?

          “In Friedman, we trust”.

          • Rizzo’s had a pretty good batting average with his deals, too. Ask any fan of the Tigers (Doug Fister) or Twins (Wilson Ramos).

          • Natsfan89 1 year ago

            The only one I can think of that just didn’t pan out was Willingham for Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown. Maybe Meyer for Span? Dude’s money more often than not.

          • Joe Orsatti 1 year ago

            At least you don’t have Ruben Amaro as a GM, his batting average with trades is equivalent to the players that he brings in. He has made 2 good trades, getting Doc and getting Lee

            We have lost Cosart, Singleton, Domingo Santana, Gose, Villar, bonilla, and D’Arnaud

          • Joey 1 year ago

            What’s your definition of a bad deal, is it trades only? Because I can give you 15-20 bad decisions that he’s made that have seriously affected the franchise.

      • MagicalDiesel 1 year ago

        Good thing you aren’t the GM of the Rays then

        • Joey 1 year ago

          I’d actually be an amazing GM thank you very much! My legion teammate is a scout for the Rays and I have 2 other buddy’s that are on the inside as well. I’m pretty crazy when it comes to all things Rays.

  2. teddy 1 year ago

    wonder what the deal was for, with the rays gm i doubt it was a 1for 1

    • Chris Weaver 1 year ago

      Package deal. From what I heard we got a pitching prospect and lobaton.

    • Seamaholic 1 year ago

      Other players are going the other way, from TB to Was.

      • teddy 1 year ago

        yah i understand, im a ants fan so i was looking at it in their perspective

  3. WolandJR 1 year ago

    I want to like this deal from the Nats perspective, but I just don’t.

    • teddy 1 year ago

      i mean it really just depends on how much you like karns

    • Natsfan89 1 year ago

      They took a guy who, at best, would be a middle reliever on the Nats and turned him into a solid backup catcher. They still have 3-4 guys who could step into the rotation if someone went down so really they filled a need by trading from a position of depth. Just like the Blevins trade.

      • marinest21 1 year ago

        Maybe Karns would be at best a reliever right now, but that doesn’t mean he holds lower value (at least in the long term) to the Nats than Lobaton. Zimmermann and Fister only have two years left on their contracts with Stras and Gio both at three. Odds are one (or more) are gonna walk unless Rizzo wants to spend bananas on the roto, which probably won’t happen given Harper’s expiring deal as well.

        My point is that the Nats are probably gonna be looking at younger, cheaper, in-house options to fill those voids, and I would’ve put Karns close to the top of the list as a replacement. I do have confidence in Roark, Cole, Jordan, and even Giolito as other candidates, but I just don’t like giving up a young controllable arm for a back-up backstop, especially when guys like Chris Snyder who puts up similar defensive numbers – are already on the roster. If Ramos can stay healthy (granted that’s a big if), he’ll be catching 120 games this year and putting up great numbers. Trading for a substitute at a position of marginal importance while giving up a potential 3-4 starter with a roto that will undergo some substantial changes sooner rather than later is a little bothersome. I guess it also depends on who the Nats get back prospect-wise however.

        • Natsfan89 1 year ago

          I understand your point, but there’s a reason Rizzo traded away guys like Alex Meyer, Robbie Ray, and Karns and it has a lot to do with the window you mentioned in regards to the starters. I hesitate to use the term “win now mode,” I think it hints at desperation and the lack of a future. That Nats aren’t desperate, they have a lot of young position players, and they still have some nice prospects. But like you said, they won’t be able to keep all their starting pitchers (I’ve already acquiesced to the idea of Zimmermann testing the open market) so if Rizzo has to trade a prospect to fill a need that will help the team win now then so be it. I’m even less inclined to worry when the prospect being traded has more highly touted prospects coming up behind him (Cole, Giolito, Sammy Solis) and guys who could provide similar results right now (Roark, Jordan).

          Now obviously this all depends on how Lobaton does, but Rizzo likes him more than Solano, Leon, or Snyder and I trust Rizzo’s judgement.

        • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 1 year ago

          Note that Gonzalez has two option years at the end of that deal as well. ($12MM apiece for ’17 and ’18.)

        • McTigers 1 year ago

          The fact that you call the catcher a “position of marginal importance” makes it really hard to take you seriously…

          • marinest21 1 year ago

            I meant the specific position of backup catcher, not solely catcher. I apologize for the confusion.

            As a life-long Padres fan, I have witnessed year after year more than serviceable backup catchers signed to affordable FA contracts.

          • McTigers 1 year ago

            In that case, I totally agree. I was pretty confused at first!

  4. rays67 1 year ago

    Great trade for the Rays.. Lobaton is a below average defensive catcher without much upside. He occasionally will get into a small offensive streak but beyond that the Nats fans shouldn’t have high hopes…. Great move Andrew!

    • teddy 1 year ago

      well actually he was rated above average, and it generally considered a good framer, so yah….

      • rays67 1 year ago

        Well I’ve been watching the guy the past few years….you watch and get back to me. He cannot throw out a base runner and cannot block a pitch so if pitch framing equals these negatives for you then you got your guy… Here are some numbers: Lobaton has caught just 16 percent of attempted base stealers in his
        career and was below average at blocking pitches in the dirt in 2013 (per Fangraphs). While he’s not a poor pitch-framer, he also doesn’t add significant value in that department, either (per Matthew Carruth’s work at StatCorner). Here is the article link: link to

        • teddy 1 year ago

          remember though, that teams have a lot more information than the masses, so while traditional stats don’t like him there is a reason why multiple teams were interested in him.

          • halflink123 1 year ago

            Not necessarily. I suspect that teams are interested in him precisely FOR his conventional stat line, ie hes an above average hitter as far as catchers go

          • PWNdroia 1 year ago

            Since when is a career .228 BA and a career .311 OBP above average?

          • halflink123 1 year ago

            not career most teams buy high, sell low, aka put most weight on last years numbers

          • PWNdroia 1 year ago

            Last year Lobaton hit .249 with an .OBP of 320 and a slugging of .394. I still don’t see how that’s above average. Might be his best year, but not above average by any means.

          • David 1 year ago

            For a catcher, it is above average. Not a ton, but slightly. Overall, it was good for a 100 OPS+ which is league average.

    • Natsfan89 1 year ago

      Soooo…you’re saying he’s a backup catcher? Awesome we needed one of those!

    • Chris Weaver 1 year ago

      How can you say great trade lol? They haven’t disclosed the rest of the deal….

      • rays67 1 year ago

        Any trade involving getting rid of Lobaton is a great trade IMHO…

        • Chris Weaver 1 year ago

          Thats quite a haul for a relief guy way done on the Nats depth charts.

  5. BrettLawriesnewesttattoo 1 year ago

    Seems like a good trade for both teams. They both turned superfluous pieces into something of value.

    • NickinIthaca 1 year ago

      This deserves a thumbs up just because of your use of the word “superfluous.”

  6. HalfSt 1 year ago

    The Nats have traded an awful lot of minor league pitchers. I hope a few other marginal pitching prospects break out for them this year to make up for this, or to give Rizzo more trading pieces. Maybe Blake Treinin can make the Michael Morse trade even better this year.

  7. Eric Droegemeier 1 year ago

    I like Nate Karns HR/9 in the minors.

  8. LittleOtterPaws 1 year ago

    Teams need to figure out that the Rays ARE ALWAYS RIGHT when it comes to scouting AA-AAA prospects. Frustratingly so. It seams like they always get the nice prospect for pennies on the dollar. Once teams figure that out they will stop being shafted by a “low budget” team like the Rays.

    • Seamaholic 1 year ago

      This isn’t remotely true. Rays system has gone steadily downhill in recent years. It’s still top half, but it’s nothing like it was in its glory years and they’ve had several bad drafting years in a row.

      • GrayhawkAZ 1 year ago

        Drafting has what to do with Triple AAA and Double AA prospects, HIgh School sure but those are completely different animals with different scouting departments…

        Rookie Ball and Single A sure.. And their system isn’t as strong that is true

      • LittleOtterPaws 1 year ago

        I’m sorry, you misread. I was talking about the scouting of advanced prospects, specifically in other peoples systems.

    • LittleOtterPaws 1 year ago

      I withdraw my statement due to considerable prospects headed Washington’s way

  9. teddy 1 year ago

    just reported per adam kilgore, of WaPo that the nationals will be getting two of rays prospects both within their top 30

  10. John Donovan 1 year ago

    Felipe Rivero is not a bad prospect for the Nats to get in this deal. A 3.40 ERA at age 21 in A+ ball.

    • teddy 1 year ago

      looks like a LH reliever with a ceiling of back end of the rotation starter, deals looking much better for the nats i wonder who the last guy is.

      • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 1 year ago

        Not certain on how Rivero looks for sticking in the rotation — saw some suggestions that he has two worthwhile offspeed offerings — but if not, I wonder if he could be Krol 2.0. That worked out pretty well the last time.

        • teddy 1 year ago

          i mean just based on the scouting reports, ive seen some saying that he could be a #3 if he fixes his stamina and location problems, he definitely has the “stuff” but i see he more as a long reliever or 1 inning middle reliever.

  11. Danny Phillips 1 year ago

    Two top 30 prospects as well coming from the Rays. I’m warming up to this deal for the Nats. Not to mention that Lobaton has three more years of cheap control.

  12. FS54 1 year ago

    wow really? that’s a good return for a prospect who was down the depth chart behind Taylor, Roark, and such.

    • Danny Phillips 1 year ago

      Law had Vettleson as the Rays #8 prospect heading into this year. Seems like they are pretty enamored with Karns.

      • teddy 1 year ago

        shockingly good return for karns, the rays must have really wanted him

  13. Pennsy 1 year ago

    With th Nats getting an OF prospect as well they’ve essentially replaced what they gave up to get Blevins. So the Nats parted with Karns and got a backup C, a lefty specialist, and a fringey arm. Not a bad offseason before one even mentions the Fister trade.

    • marinest21 1 year ago

      I would even go further and say they not only replaced but upgraded both the departures of Burns (in Vettleson) and Ray (in Rivero). Vettleson definitely has more upside than Burns but is not as polished, and the same may be said for Rivero compared to Ray. I was on the fence about this deal before I saw the prospects coming back, but now I am more optimistic. Lobaton’s framing abilities must be of the charts if Rizzo is gushing about them.

  14. Pretty good trade over all honestly, clears up a roster space for the Rays too

  15. Joe Orsatti 1 year ago

    Hey Washington,
    I’ll give you Ruben Amaro and our billion dollar TV contract and a PTBNL for Mike Rizzo

    • Eugene in Oregon 1 year ago

      That deal would look better if you left Mr. Amaro out of it.

  16. algionfriddo 1 year ago

    Sandy Leon (Nationals) is already better defensively than Lobaton and has a much better arm. Leon did not hit well in the minors in 2013, but he was doing well in Winter ball. Hopefully he can step it up in 2014.

    • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 1 year ago

      Lobaton’s ability to hit from the left side does make a difference — Leon hasn’t performed very well lefthanded in the minors, while Lobaton is pretty much platoon-free at the MLB level. And given the prospect element of the deal, I don’t feel the Nats gave up a ton of overall value for Lobaton. If Leon proves worthy and Lobaton struggles, you could always see a mysterious DL trip for the latter and call-up of Sandy. But remember that Leon is just 24 and has not seen many at-bats at the upper minors. He’s still got time to develop and still have plenty of impact.

      Mostly just wanted to respond to give you a thumbs up on the pic and user name, though! I’ve got that same photo signed by Mr. Gionfriddo — sent it to him when I was 10 or 12.

      • teddy 1 year ago

        1 could argue the nats got more value from karns then the tigers got for fister LOL

        • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 1 year ago

          Ha, well, at least the value may be closer than one might have expected.

          I do think that there is something extra to be said for the value of pitching prospects that come with 6 years of control and have reached the point of being “MLB ready” — whether or not they are more likely to be injured than a younger guy, or have better or worse upside, they have less time to get injured before they contribute at the MLB level. That matters, especially if you think that pitching injuries are in some substantial respects random.

          Really interesting trade, I think.

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