VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals have been interested in Rays catcher Jose Lobaton for a little while now. A report late this afternoon tosses out right-hander Nathan Karns as a guy who might be able to help the Nats land Lobaton in a deal with Tampa Bay.
The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that the Nats and Rays are talking about a Lobaton trade, with Karns serving as part of Tampa Bay's potential return for the 29-year-old catcher. Other players could be involved in the trade, according to the report.
Lobaton had his best season as a major leaguer in 2013, appearing in 100 games with the Rays and posting a .249/.320/.394 slash line with seven home runs and 32 RBIs. His OPS plus was an even 100, which is league-average.
The Venezuelan is considered a solid backup catcher, but he's somewhat expendable in Tampa Bay, as the Rays already have two proven catchers signed to big league deals in Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina.
The Nats have been searching for a quality backup to Wilson Ramos this offseason. At present, the main contenders for the Nats' backup catching job are Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon, Chris Snyder and Koyie Hill.
Karns, 26, is ranked by Baseball America as the Nats' ninth-best prospect entering this season. The righty got his first taste of the big leagues last season, making three starts and posting a 7.50 ERA over 12 innings.
He had a strong season at Double-A Harrisburg, however, going 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA. Karns struck out 155 and walked 48 in 132 2/3 innings at Harrisburg.
A 12th-round pick of the Nats back in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Karns is in the mix for the Nationals' No. 5 rotation spot this season. He's considered a longshot to win that job, but is still liked by many scouts within the organization, some who view him as a potential late-inning reliever down the road.