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Rizzo on the Lobaton trade and playing time

Feb 13, 2014, 4:32 PM EST

Associated Press Associated Press

VIERA, Fla. — Mike Rizzo had attempted all winter to upgrade his catching depth but insisted all along he’d be comfortable entering spring training with Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon or Chris Snyder backing up starter Wilson Ramos.

And then on the first day of camp, Rizzo pulled off a deal long suspected, acquiring Jose Lobaton from the Rays and confirming he preferred a more reliable No. 2 catching option all along.

In dealing right-hander Nate Karns to Tampa Bay for Lobaton and two prospects, Rizzo found an experienced catcher capable not only of giving Ramos occasional days off but also stepping in to start on a long-term basis should Ramos’ injury history crop up yet again.

“Out of the group of catchers, he fit the criteria we’re looking for,” Rizzo said during an impromptu news conference in the press box at Space Coast Stadium. “He blocks balls well. He frames pitches well. He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s a good offensive catcher and a guy who’s caught a championship-caliber staff and caught 100 games last year. So he fit a lot of the criteria that we were looking for and was a guy that passed the makeup test and the character test. It was just a good fit for us.”

Lobaton, 29, has 191 games of big-league experience under his belt, 100 of them coming last season with the AL Wild Card-winning Rays. His .249/.320/.714 offensive slash line was average for a catcher. (His OPS+ of 100 suggests he was exactly an average offensive catcher.) He has had some issues throwing out runners — his 16 percent career caught rate is 12 points below the NL average last season — but as we’ve seen in D.C., that’s not always the catcher’s fault.

What sold Rizzo on Lobaton in particular was his pitch-framing ability.

“It’s a measurable metric,” the GM said. “Our statistical analysis people rank all the catchers in baseball, and he ranks very well in the framing.”

Rizzo also craves players who are under team control beyond one year, and so of course Lobaton fits that bill: He can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season and is making a relatively affordable $900,000 salary this year.

How much game action, though, can Lobaton be expected to receive in Washington? Ramos said in September he wanted to start 125-plus games this season, and he added to that number on Thursday.

“I want to stay healthy, I want to work with my legs and try to be strong mentally to catch 130-135 games,” he said. “That’s the point right now.”

Will the Nationals actually let Ramos carry that kind of workload, even if he keeps himself in tip-top shape? Rizzo seemed to suggest the answer is no.

“If you look at the games caught by catchers throughout the league, 10 catchers caught 100 games or more last year,” he said. “So there’s ample opportunity for a good second catcher on a club. Although Wilson is clearly our No. 1 catcher, we certainly want him to be available throughout the whole season. And [Lobaton] is a capable backup in case something does happen with Wilson.”

Rizzo’s facts weren’t entirely accurate: Sixteen major-league catchers started 100 games last season. But only four started 120 or more games: Matt Wieters, Yadier Molina, Salvador Perez and Jonathan Lucroy. So the odds of the Nationals needing to call upon Lobaton at least 40-to-50 times this season appear more than plausible.

Make no mistake: In their perfect world, the Nationals would see Ramos start 120-plus games this season, club 20 homers and establish himself as one of the best catchers in the NL.

But in acquiring Lobaton on Thursday, they made sure they’re covered behind the plate, with a second catcher who can be trusted to take on a significant workload should the situation arise.

  1. David Proctor - Feb 13, 2014 at 4:37 PM

    OPS+ does not have a positional adjustment. So a 100 OPS+ suggests he was a league average hitter, but NOT a league average catcher. He was an above average offensive catcher.

    • Wisp Of Smoke - Feb 13, 2014 at 5:02 PM

      “As a whole, major league catchers hit .245/.310/.388 in 2013, good for a 96 OPS+ (or 96 percent as good as the average MLB hitter). ” Puts him pretty much as an average offensive catcher. Or a tick above.

      • David Proctor - Feb 13, 2014 at 6:00 PM

        Indeed, I didn’t mean to imply he was amazing. I just wanted to clarify that the 100 OPS+ does not mean he’s a league average catcher because of the lack of positional adjustment.

  2. nats128 - Feb 13, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    From Mark: What sold Rizzo on Lobaton in particular was his pitch-framing ability.

    “It’s a measurable metric,” the GM said. “Our statistical analysis people rank all the catchers in baseball, and he ranks very well in the framing.”

  3. NatsNut - Feb 13, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    Kilgore described long faces on Solano and Leon when they heard of the trade. Would Rizzo or Williams ever talk to them individually about it?

    • sjm308 - Feb 13, 2014 at 5:03 PM

      I have no insight on this but you have to think that the manager will talk to everyone in camp as it progresses and both these guys have to understand the business of baseball. Solano is not young, he turns 29 this August so he has to know how it works.

      As for “long faces” how can Kilgore know they were upset. If they express that (which they won’t) then you can go on a theory of “long faces”, but I am not buying it.

      What I think will happen is that each of these catchers will work together to help our pitching staff and ultimately themselves be the best combinations for each game. That is the role of the catcher and I don’t have any evidence to the contrary that these guys are now sitting and pouting.

      • Jb - Feb 13, 2014 at 5:44 PM

        Horse walks into a bar. Kilgore asks “Why the long face?”

    • scnatsfan - Feb 13, 2014 at 5:36 PM

      Solano probably more then Leon. Onion figures to be the injury call up while Leon can still put together a solid mlb career if he progresses.

  4. Wisp Of Smoke - Feb 13, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    As a whole, major league catchers hit .245/.310/.388 in 2013, good for a 96 OPS+ (or 96 percent as good as the average MLB hitter). Puts him as an average offensive catcher or a tick above.

  5. Faraz Shaikh - Feb 13, 2014 at 5:09 PM

    Rivero is ranked tenth by FG and Law ranks Drew V as #8. (Source)

    • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 13, 2014 at 5:10 PM

      MLB’s ranking will be revealed in March.

      • naterialguy - Feb 13, 2014 at 5:34 PM

        The ultimate ranking will be revealed in October

    • NatsLady - Feb 13, 2014 at 6:46 PM

      Here is Law’s comment from his chat today.

      It looks like the Nats got two good prospects to go along with Lobaton. Thoughts?

      Klaw (1:55 PM)

      If Vettleson is indeed included, I like it much more for them. Converted a good starter prospect they didn’t need into a useful catcher and two decent lower-level prospects.

  6. David Proctor - Feb 13, 2014 at 7:04 PM

  7. Theophilus T.S. - Feb 13, 2014 at 7:40 PM

    Lobaton is a bit like Suzuki. He’s so attractive as a possible trade object he should rent not buy. I think the time will come when Rizzo decides he can get something really worthwhile in return. So Solano’s cause is not hopeless — quite. He’ll still get the first call if either Ramos or Lobaton gets hurt. And who knows whether a big league job will be up for grabs next season.

  8. NatsLady - Feb 13, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    Tom Schad ‏@Tom_Schad
    Sick. RT @AndrewSimonMLB New #Nats prospect Drew Vettleson is a switch hitter, also was ambidextrous pitcher in HS:

    • Eugene in Oregon - Feb 13, 2014 at 8:02 PM

      The Yankees had a ‘switch pitcher’ in their minor leagues a few seasons ago. He even had a special glove made that would fit either hand (Mr. Vettleson appeared to use a different glove). Whatever become of him?

      • TimDz - Feb 13, 2014 at 9:43 PM


      • Eugene in Oregon - Feb 13, 2014 at 11:14 PM

        That was it; thanks.

      • hantiaolang - Feb 14, 2014 at 2:04 PM

        Pat Venditte is still in the Yankees’ system. My kids and I saw him pitch last year at AA Trenton. It is a pretty cool sight to see him switch up in the middle of an inning.

  9. David Proctor - Feb 13, 2014 at 7:55 PM

    Dan Szymborski ‏@DSzymborski 15s
    Jose Lobaton ZiPS in Washington: 249/322/391, OPS+ 95, 1.3 WAR (just 288 projected PA)

    I would gladly take this from our backup catcher.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Feb 13, 2014 at 8:03 PM


  10. David Proctor - Feb 13, 2014 at 8:27 PM

    Apparently Mark Foley went from fooling around with Congressional Pages to…helping Mark Lerner find a new Spring Training home?

  11. tcostant - Feb 14, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    “He has had some issues throwing out runners — his 16 percent career caught rate.”

    Me: He’ll fit right in…





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