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February 14, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Nationals Catch a Ray

by R.J. Anderson and Steffan Segui

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Nathan Karns from the Nationals in exchange for C-S Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero, and OF-L Drew Vettleson. [2/13]

Nathan Karns is a big power pitcher who made his MLB debut in 2013 with Washington. He is an older prospect, having been a college sign who missed his first full season after shoulder surgery. In two full pro seasons he has improved the control issues that plagued him in college, and has moved quickly through the minors. Karns features two plus pitches: a fastball that sits in the 92-95 mph range, and a hard downer curveball that is a true swing-and-miss pitch. His lack of a strong third pitch and iffy command will keep him as a mid-to-end-rotation starter. Still, he is major-league ready and adds starting depth for the Rays, who can use him as insurance for Jeremy Hellickson. —Steffan Segui

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Acquired C-S Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero, and OF-L Drew Vettleson from the Rays in exchange for RHP Nathan Karns. [2/13]

Andrew Friedman's motivation for moving Lobaton was simple: he had no choice. Friedman made multi-year commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan earlier in the winter, and couldn't option Lobaton to the minors without submitting the 29-year-old to waivers; as a result, he had to choose between trading the odd-man out now or before camp ended. Rather than risk Lobaton getting hurt during the exhibition season, Friedman consummated a trade with the Nationals on reporting day—and in the process added two prospects to sweeten the return.

Mike Rizzo's incentive for agreeing to this (seemingly even) deal is just as straightforward. Wilson Ramos has missed at least 60 days due to injury in each of the past two seasons, and last year his replacements hit .210/.269/.288 in more than 300 plate appearances. For a team with contention hopes, an upgrade was needed. Rizzo pursued Molina, but the veteran backstop opted to return to the Rays. So Rizzo did the next best thing and acquired Molina's backup of the last two years.

Lobaton is a pure switch-hitter in the sense that he lacks a perceptible platoon split. The same steadiness applies to the rest of his offensive skills: he's neither good nor poor at any one thing. Instead he's so-so throughout. He won't hit for a high average, but he'll take enough walks and hit enough doubles to be a tolerable hitter for the position. To wit, PECOTA projects him for a .250 True Average, which is a few points below last year's league average for the position (.257).

Behind the plate, Lobaton was noticeably more active than Molina. Unfortunately, he pales in comparison to the veteran across the other defensive aspects. Some of the blame for his 14 percent caught stealing rate goes to Tampa Bay's staff, yet Molina managed to post a better-than-average kill rate with the same pitchers. Lobaton appeared to be an average receiver, by our numbers and the eye test, and he could stand to improve on the intangible aspects of catching, like game-calling and staff-handling. Still, the Nationals aren't expecting a whiz here. They just want a competent backup who can stand in if Ramos gets hurt. Lobaton serves the role. R.J. Anderson


Drew Vettleson was a supplemental first-round pick in 2010 out of the Northwest area that the Rays draft from so often. In 2013, he saw a big drop in his power numbers and was passed over by other outfielders in the organization, thus making him expendable. He still has some value due to being a good defender with a strong arm, as well as the possibility of his power production reappearing outside of the Florida State League. Vettleson projects to be a fringe type player who would fit well in a fourth outfielder role in the future.


Felipe Rivero has proven to be a consistent minor-league starter who keeps the ball in the yard. While he possesses the ability to have plus stuff, it all plays down due to his being only six feet tall and having command issues within the zone. His fastball often flattens out due to lack of angle and his off-speed lacks consistent feel. Rivero may be able to stick around and start but size and consistency may push him to the bullpen where his stuff can play up in short stints. —Steffan Segui

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Steffan Segui is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steffan's other articles. You can contact Steffan by clicking here

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