VIERA, Fla. - One day into spring training, we have our first trade. Not much time wasted there.
Mike Rizzo found who he surely expects to be the Nationals’ backup catcher this morning, completing a trade with the Rays that sends right-hander Nathan Karns to Tampa Bay in exchange for catcher Jose Lobaton.
The teams have not yet announced the trade, but the deal is expected to be made official later today.
Karns had just arrived to the Nats’ facilities here in Viera this morning when Rizzo pulled him aside to inform him about the trade. The deal sends the righty - who was the Nats’ 2012 minor league Pitcher of the Year and the organization’s No. 9 prospect entering this season, according to Baseball America - to a Rays team that has a history of churning out quality pitching prospects.
Before even having a chance to get settled here in the home clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium, Karns was off for the next stop in his baseball career.
“You know, it’s new. I don’t really know how to process it yet,” Karns told reporters this morning before tossing his belongings into a giant black trash bag and departing Viera for the Rays’ spring training facility in Port Charlotte. “It just kind of fell into my lap this morning. I just talked to Rizzo, had a great conversation. I’m on good feelings with it. It’s a new opportunity. Not everybody gets to stay in the same organization their whole career. Maybe in the future I’ll be back. And if not, I had a great time here. I have nothing but great things to say about it.”
Players can choose to view a trade in a couple of ways - that their former team didn’t need them around anymore, or that their new team wanted them enough to target them in a deal.
“I look at it as, Rizzo told me the deal, he just couldn’t pass up on it,” Karns said. “I can understand that from a business point. He has a job to do. I have a job to do. There’s no bad feelings. It’s just business. ...
“I’m still trying to swallow the whole pill right now. It’ll probably hit me as I leave this complex, but I’m happy with all the time I’ve had here since 2009. Now, on to the next.”
Wilson Ramos has some experience playing alongside Lobaton - the two Venezuelan catchers were both a part of the Leones del Caracas squad in the Venezuelan Winter League back in 2010. Now, should Lobaton indeed become Ramos’ backup with the Nationals, the two will team up and handle the same pitching staff yet again.
“He’s a good guy,” Ramos said. “Good teammate. Good catcher, too. Pretty good tools. Hits pretty good. Good behind the plate, too. So it’s good. ...
“We worked together and I know how he likes to play. I like to play with those guys, when I know those guys, it’s better because we have pretty good communication, we stay on the same page with the pitching staff. For me, he speaks Spanish, too. It’s better for (communication). I know I need to teach him how those pitchers like to throw, stay on the same page with them. But we’ve got time for that. We’ve got time for that in spring training.”
Lobaton has a career .228/.311/.343 slash line at the major league level, and the switch-hitting 29-year-old is coming off a season where he posted a career-best .714 OPS in 100 games played.
At least based on some statistics, his defense is a bit of a question mark, however. Lobaton threw out just 10 of 73 runners attempting to steal last season, which is a 14 percent caught-stealing rate. The league-average caught-stealing rate last season was 26 percent.
With Ramos’ injury history, however, the Nats felt they wanted an experienced backup catcher as insurance should he go down again. Lobaton will join Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon, Chris Snyder, Koyie Hill, Brian Jeroloman and Jeff Howell as the catchers in Nats camp.