Nationals sign Lobaton to one-year deal, avoid arbitration

The Nationals announced a player transaction this afternoon, but not the transaction many have been on pins and needles on while they wait for it to be completed.

lobaton-nlds-home-run-sidebar.jpgPushing a proposed trade with the Pirates for star outfielder Andrew McCutchen aside for at least a moment, the Nationals agreed to terms on a one-year contract with Jose Lobaton, avoiding arbitration with the popular veteran catcher.

Terms of the deal weren't immediately known, but Lobaton was due to receive a modest raise from his 2016 salary of $1.3875 million.

Though there wouldn't have seemed to be much reason for the two sides to rush to an agreed-upon contract until later this winter once arbitration figures are required to be exchanged, the Nationals and Lobaton might have been motivated to get this done right now.

Major League Baseball's deadline to tender contracts to all arbitration-eligible players is Friday, and there was some thought the club might non-tender the 32-year-old, paving the way for rookie Pedro Severino and/or a yet-to-be-acquired veteran to take over catching duties next season.

This deal doesn't guarantee Lobaton will play for the Nationals in 2017 - he could still be traded or even released in spring training, with the club responsible for only a fraction of his salary - but it does strongly suggest he's in the team's plans.

Lobaton served as a capable backup to Wilson Ramos over the last three seasons. In 149 games featuring 499 plate appearances, he has hit .223 with a .292 on-base percentage, eight homers and 40 RBIs.

Lobaton's work behind the plate is his true calling card, though, and he continues to be regarded both by teammates and metrics as one of the best game-callers and pitch-framers in baseball.

With Ramos now a free agent on the heels of his second career surgery for a torn ACL in his right knee, the Nationals face a quandary: Go into 2017 with Lobaton and Severino (the 23-year-old who hit .321 in 16 games this season) as a catching tandem, or pursue a more experienced starter, keep Lobaton as the backup and let Severino continue to refine his skills in the minors?

With Lobaton signed, the Nationals have five remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible players: Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa, Tanner Roark and Ben Revere. Revere is a strong candidate to be non-tendered at Friday's deadline.

Nats face tender decisions before deadline tonight
Sources: Nats, Pirates engaged in McCutchen trade ...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to