A trade that quietly reaped benefits

When assessing the roster moves made by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo that made a major impact on the Nats’ division title, a couple jump out at you.

The trade that brought Asdrubal Cabrera over just before the non-waiver trade deadline gave the Nationals an experienced infielder who delivered a number of clutch hits and played a smooth second base.

The waiver claim that added left-hander Matt Thornton to the bullpen in early August bolstered the left side of the ‘pen and added a hard-throwing, late-inning option to an already strong relief corps.

Kevin Frandsen (added toward the very end of spring training) and Nate Schierholtz (added in mid-August) gave Matt Williams experienced, versatile reserves who became the Nats’ top pinch-hitting options from the right and left sides, respectively, down the stretch.

The Doug Fister deal - well, we’ve covered that one a good bit.

Those are the roster additions that most people will probably think of when looking back at the new players to join the Nats this season.

LobatonThrowsSidebar.jpgBut let’s give a little bit of love to Jose Lobaton, who ended up becoming a very well-liked teammate, a tremendous receiver behind the plate and, over the final few months of the season, a pretty decent hitter when he found his way into the lineup.

With the Nats in need of an experienced backup catcher, Lobaton was acquired by Rizzo, along with two prospects, early on in spring training in the deal that sent pitching prospect Nathan Karns to the Tampa Bay Rays.

It took a little time for Lobaton to get comfortable with a new team and a new pitching staff, which could be expected. Lobaton proved inconsistent with the bat through the first half of the season, including a couple of stretches when Wilson Ramos landed on the DL and Lobaton ended up playing on a near-everyday basis.

But as the season went on, Lobaton settled in. He improved offensively, found his voice in the clubhouse and showed off his impressive abilities both as a pitch-framer and game-caller.

From July 13 on, over 79 plate appearances, Lobaton hit .289/.316/.329. He didn’t exhibit much power, but he was able to work his season average up to .234, slightly above his career average.

Perhaps more important, however, was his work with the Nats pitching staff. Lobaton had a 2.87 catcher’s ERA this season (meaning pitchers posted a 2.87 ERA when working with Lobaton), which was the best mark in the majors of any catcher with at least 30 games behind the plate.

Two pitchers in particular seemed to really work especially well with Lobaton - Fister put up a 1.53 ERA in 11 games working with Lobaton, while Stephen Strasburg posted a 2.66 ERA in 14 games with the 30-year-old catcher.

Teammates found Lobaton to be a hard worker who possessed a good sense of humor. And while he didn’t appear in the postseason, Lobaton did his best to contribute in other ways, buying and placing maneki-neko, or lucky cat, in the Nats dugout in San Francisco during the NLDS.

Lobaton is eligible for arbitration this offseason for the second time, meaning he’ll get a raise from the $900,000 he made this season, and he’s under contractual control through the 2017 campaign.

The Nats hope he’ll carry over his solid offensive play down the stretch into 2015, and that with even more experience with the pitching staff, he’ll help lead that group to even better results.

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