Rays trade Jose Lobaton to Nationals for pitching prospect

Jose Lobaton started 76 games for the Rays last season, but became expendable when they re-signed veteran Jose Molina and traded for Ryan Hanigan.
Jose Lobaton started 76 games for the Rays last season, but became expendable when they re-signed veteran Jose Molina and traded for Ryan Hanigan.
Published Feb. 14, 2014

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays' actions Thursday made it clear they thought highly of RHP Nate Karns in giving up three players — extra C Jose Lobaton and prospects LHP Felipe Rivero and OF Drew Vettleson — to get him from Washington.

And then executive VP Andrew Friedman's words illustrated just how much.

"We feel like he's got a chance to be a really good major-league starting pitcher," Friedman said. "He's a big, strong, physical guy. Plus fastball, plus breaking ball, and the changeup really came on for him last year. We think he's got the size, strength, durability to potentially be a guy that can put 200-plus innings on his body."

Karns, 26, showed that potential in the lower minors, going a combined 11-4, 2.17 at two Class A stops in 2012 and 10-6, 3.26 at Double-A Harrisburg last year before making three starts for the Nationals (0-1, 7.50). The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is expected to open the season at Triple-A Durham but could pitch in the majors at some point.

The Nationals, in need of an experienced backup catcher, had interest in Lobaton for several months, and the Rays targeted Karns. But it took numerous conversations and iterations of the deal to make it work.

To do so, the Rays had to include Rivero, a live-armed starter who was 9-7, 3.40 in 23 games for advanced Class A Charlotte last year and was ranked their No. 17 prospect by Baseball America, and Vettleson, a 2010 first-round supplemental pick who hit .274 with four homers and 62 RBIs for Charlotte in 2013 and was their No. 20 prospect.

Karns told media at Nationals camp he was surprised to be traded but understood the business aspect when Nationals GM Mike Rizzo told him, "He just couldn't pass up on (the deal)."

Lobaton started 76 games last season and delivered one of the top moments with an AL Division Series-extending Game 3 walkoff homer. But he became expendable when veteran Jose Molina was re-signed and Ryan Hani­gan was acquired in a trade.

The Rays were willing to bring him to camp if nothing worked out. But Friedman acknowledged it would have been an overall distraction and unfair to Lobaton, who is out of options and, thus, likely would have been dealt or claimed on waivers at some point.

Lobaton said on Twitter he was sad to go: "Rays fans: It is very difficult to say Goodbye to all of you since you were always very supportive of me. … Will always cherish that. Thanks for everything."

The Rays don't currently have an experienced third catcher in the event of an injury or to stash at Triple A, which might be addressed later in the spring.

Friedman mentioned camp invitees Ali Solis, Eddy Rodriguez and Curt Casali as interesting options. The move left the team with an open spot on its 40-man roster.

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PITCHING IN: In their continuing effort to add starting depth, the Rays are likely to sign veteran LHP Erik Bedard to a minor-league deal. Bedard, 34, has pitched 10 years in the majors, though without much success recently, 11-26, 4.78 the past two seasons for the Pirates and Astros.

MISCELLANY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson said he is "feeling really good" since the Jan. 29 elbow surgery expected to sideline him into May with noticeably decreased discomfort and improved range of motion. … Hanigan and RHP Heath Bell, two of the team's top offseason acquisitions, reported early and were among more than 20 players working out Thursday.

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