In the first report on discussions between the two teams, former Nationals' GM Jim Bowden, who is currently a host on MLB Network Radio and a writer and analyst for ESPN, wrote that the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays were discussing a potential deal for catcher Jose Lobaton, who became available/expendable after the Rays re-signed Jose Molina and acquired catcher Ryan Hanigan from the Cincinnati Reds this winter:
"The Nationals have been in discussions with the Rays for catcher Jose Lobaton, as they look for a backup for Wilson Ramos."
In his fourth major league season in 2013, Lobaton, 29, a switch-hitting catcher, put up a .249/.320/.394 line with 15 doubles, two triples and seven home runs in 100 games and 311 plate appearances over which he was worth +1.4 fWAR.
Lobaton, in theory, would give the Nationals a legitimate backup option if Ramos were to miss time with an injury as he did in each of the last two seasons. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters last month that the Nationals remained open to adding to the catchers battling for the backup spot behind Ramos even though he was comfortable with the in-house options.
"We're looking for value wherever we can find it," Rizzo explained. "If a backup catcher that fits what we're trying to do were to become available, we certainly would look into it. We like the pack of guys that are going to compete for it, [Jhonatan] Solano, [Sandy] Leon and Chris Snyder. We feel that they are very, very capable backups and with so many teams in the big leagues looking for a good catcher, we feel that we've got a great catcher in Wilson Ramos and capable backups to go behind him."
The Nationals have also signed veteran catcher Koyie Hill, bringing him to Spring Training to compete for the backup role, but even after the additions like Hill and Snyder, rumors of interest in Lobaton have persisted. Both Tampa Bay Times' writer Marc Topkin and nationals.com writer Bill Ladson have since mentioned the Nationals as potential trade partners for the Rays, though Ladson wrote recently that the two sides, "... have been talking for a least a month," but were having a hard time agreeing on what Tampa Bay would receive in return:
"...the teams can't agree on the players the Rays would receive in the deal, although it's known the Rays would like to replenish their farm system."
According to the Tampa Bay Times' Mr. Topkin, the name Nathan Karns has come up in discussions:
Will the Nationals finally land the backup backstop they've been rumored to be after? Karns, 26, was (0-1) with a 7.50 ERA, 8.38 FIP, 5 HRs (3.75 HR/9) and 6 BB (4.50 BB/9) allowed and 11 Ks (4.50 BB/9) collected in three starts for the Nationals last season over which he was worth -0.4 fWAR. At Double-A Harrisburg, the '09 12th Round pick was (10-6) with a 3.26 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 48 walks (3.26 BB/9), 14 HRs allowed (0.95 HR/9) and 155 Ks (10.52 K/9) in 132 1/3 IP. A late-round draft pick coming off a strong season after working back from injury? Does that sound like the Nationals' M.O. to you?
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