Nationals Baseball: Swing Lo-baton, sweet back-up catcher

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Swing Lo-baton, sweet back-up catcher

The Rays have a back-up catcher available. Last year Jose Lobaton put up a .249 / .320 / .394 line. That's not that great but it's solid enough for a catcher.  In fact the .714 OPS puts him with the bat pretty smack dab in the middle of major league catcher. But Lobaton is not the best glove behind the plate and isn't prospect age anymore, so Tampa has decided to cut bait. The Rays re-signed Jose Molina and traded for Ryan Hanignan.

The Nats need a back-up catcher. Last year Jhonatan Solano put up a .214 / .245 / 279 line. Sandy Leon went for .177 / .291 / .252.  Did I mention those were AAA and AA lines respectively? Things were worse in the major leagues. Given the state of back-up catchers though, neither of those two lines are immediate job killers if you can play great defense. But the Nats have an extenuating circumstance. Wilson Ramos gets injured alot. He caught 126 games in 2008 and hasn't gone over 113 since. If your starter isn't reliable, you can't have a back-up that can't hit at all.

But wait a second! Aren't Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan terrible at the plate? I thought you might ask that. Yes they were. Molina hit .233 / .290 / .304 last year and will be 39 this season. Hanigan hit .198 / .306 / .261 and will be 33 although to be fair to him it was an oddly bad season for someone who is usually just below average. What gives here? Why would the Rays not want Lobaton? The answer is the stat that is the current soccer ball being chased around the field by the 4 year olds of sabermetric research; pitch framing.

We've all known that catchers must have an impact on pitchers getting calls. That just makes sense. Someone finally took all that data sitting around and went ahead and figured out who is good at it.  Of course it is still in its formative stages but both Molina and Hanigan rank high. Lobaton is pretty average and like I said not thought of to be a good fielding catcher in general. Does it matter? Well yes who doesn't want more strikes and fewer balls, but it's hard to say how much it matters. When it comes down to it and you have enough sample the best catchers are getting 3 calls and the worst are losing 3 a game. How meaningful are these calls is up in the air? An early strike lost against a pitcher - that's likely just an extra pitch. A called strike on 3-2 with 2-outs lost against the guy in front of Miguel Cabrera - that could be two runs. Anyway, while the stat world tries to figure this out, the Rays have deemed this important and thus that frees up Lobaton.

If you are wondering Leon might be very good, Snyder is good, Ramos is ok, Solano is average, Suzuki was bad, and Koyie Hill can't do this either why the hell are we wasting our time here with this guy.  Was he a Diamondback? Yes, yes he was.

What will it take to get Lobaton? Something decent, if I were to guess. What are the Nats willing to give up? Nothing decent, if I were to guess. It's the standard trade stand-off.

It's a gamble for the Nats. I bet they could get him for say... Purke right now, coming off surgery and a mediocre year in upper A-ball. He has enough talent that you still like him to get to the majors in some fashion, but he's not even in the Nats Top 10 guys anymore. If not him than a Souza or Michael Taylor, guys Nats fans have convinced themselves might be stars, but objectively are fringy prospects with stuff left to prove. But have Ramos go down and the Nats come knocking because Chris Snyder is hitting .140 and the price goes up. If I were the Rays, you know you aren't getting a Giolito, but I'd hold out for a Robbie Ray or Sammy Solis. If you're the Nats and fighting for a playoff spot, how can you not make that deal? No Strasburg in 2012 playoffs - that's ok we'll get them next year. Waiting forever to fix 2013 team - that's ok we'll get them next year.  Sitting on a massive failure at catcher in 2014? Eventually there are no next years.

Of course that may not happen but you see my point. The Nats don't have to deal for Lobaton now, but if something happens to Ramos they almost certainly will have to deal for Lobaton or someone like him later. In that situation the price will have gone up. As I've said before I have no faith in Rizzo's in season dealings (we just haven't seen it happen yet) so I'd be all for a deal for Lobaton for any of those names I said were possible. It's time to bet on today.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Didn't we traded Ray for Fister?

Harper said...

THEY'LL BE HOLDING OUT A LONG TIME THEN

Anonymous said...

Why not just sign Yanier Bello and hope that he is replacement level.

Anonymous said...

Why not just sign Yanier Bello and hope that he is replacement level.

Wally said...

Lobaton is an upgrade from the current group, but doesn't look like a great one. I don't think that I would pay too much. If they are going to give up a Purke, what about Arencibia and betting that the offense has to rebound? Probably comes more cheaply than Lobo-cop, and he might be a tad better defensively. Plus, the chicks dig the long ball.

But here is a puzzling question (although even I admit it may not be worth the energy spent typing it): why does Solano get the nod over Leon? They both are horrible at the plate, but at least Leon seems to give you plus defense. Jerry Grote for the internet age. Remember when Davey oddly threw out there that Ramos was going to catch 25 straight games just to see if he could? I think in reality he was just allergic to Onions.

John C. said...

I wouldn't trade anything of more than fringy value for Lobaton now because I'm not convinced he's that much of an upgrade over Snyder (I also haven't given up on Leon, although I have largely given up on the Onion). Snyder had a bad season in 2012 but was actually acceptable before that and was genuinely meh in AAA last year. And defensively he's solid and his pitch framing is pretty good. Fangraphs had Snyder with more expected value than either Kurt Suzuki or John Buck - either of whom fans would be happy to have as a backup catcher (both of whom are mediocre bats with crappy pitch framining ability).

John C. said...

And as Wally says, if I have to pay to go get a catcher later, I'm gunning for someone better than any of these guys. So you're not stuck with a Lobaton as you fight for the playoffs, you're trading to get a Dionner Navarro (etc) to fill in for the missing Ramos.

Chinatown Express said...

Slightly off topic: Am I the only one who still expects Purke to be a major-league starter, and probably a darn good one? Like, I realize that means I'm stuck in 2011 (or earlier), but I just can't give up on the guy.

Based on the Fister trade, I'm guessing the Tigers' GM would be perfectly happy putting together a three-team trade (Ray to Rays; Lobotan to Nats; bag of BP balls to Detroit), since his primary goal seems to be making the Nats better.

Anonymous said...

I agree with John C. I'd hold off on the trade. Plus, most teams get their offense from anywhere but catcher. We need Span and LaRoche to hit. We need Ryan Zimmerman to hit before July or August. I'm still not convince the Nats did anything last year offensively but beat up on the NL East (not including Braves) at the end of the year. We were horrible against teams with winning records.

Harper said...

Anon - age, cost, hasn't played since 2011, burned by Maya... really though cost. Someone will give him some decent deal which is probably too much.

Wally - Arencibia is on the Rangers because they don't trust Soto I imagine. I doubt they'd deal him. Plus 74 walks in his career, once the power goes, he's REALLY nothing.

Leon just hit too poorly last year, that's it. I'm sure if he looks any better in ST that he'll jump over Solano.

JohnC - That does make some sense. Rather than give up a Solis for a Lobaton, why not go for a Navarro? I might take it a step further - why not a Giolito for a Jon Lucroy? Win now, right? I mean if you have to deal for a catcher again - how can you ever rely on Ramos? My only question is do you see Rizzo making your deal mid-season? (I assume mine is not happening)

I do like Lobaton more than Snyder. I think 2011 was a fluke and he's pretty much done as a hitter.

C Exp - Expects? Yes. Well I suppose his parents might still believe. Hopes? No. Basically a ton rides on next season. He'll be an "old 23" next year and he was blah last year versus competition that is age appropriate. Another mediocre year at A+ ball while ending the year at 24? The Nats would probably start looking at relief possibilites for him.

See if we can't deal LaRoche for Cabrera first.

Harper said...

Anon - sure we don't need offense from catcher but... well whatever for me it's more of a "don't care about fringy prospects" as opposed to "Nats have to get a guy now!" A lot of you love those prospects but don't say I didn't warn you if Lobaton goes elsewhere, Ramos goes down and the Nats are being held over a barrel by some other team.

JWLumley said...

I agree, the Nats should make the deal, partly because TINSTAAPP and all, but mainly because Leon and the Onion aren't even replacement level. You thought it was rough watching Lombar-don'tsy getting all those AB's last year while refusing to take a walk and thus cheat the game, even if Ramos doesn't get hurt the Nats backup catcher is still going to get 200 PAs. Prospects are typically overrated, except for Alex Meyer that is, he's going to be good enough to make everyone in Minnesota forget about Matt Capps.

blovy8 said...

The thing going the Nats' way is that Lobaton is out of options, they clearly can't keep him if Molina and Hanigan stay healthy.
But I believe the Nats would have to release Synder if he doesn't make the club, and drop someone off the 40-man if they make this trade. To me that spells a guy like Mattheus and not a prospect.
His GB percentage still looked very good last year, don't the Rays notice that kind of stuff and try to take advantage of it? He had a tough year in ERA, but his FIP was still average for a reliever. I'd say it would be very hard for Mattheus to dig himself out of AAA for the Nats with all the guys ahead of him.

Wally said...

I must have missed Arencibia to the Rangers, I thought that he was still with the Jays.

I think that if they are going to do something, I agree with trading a better prospect for a better catcher. But maybe there is a way to do it a little differently: what about JR Murphy from the Yanks for a major league bullpen piece? Seems like with McCann and Sanchez, that guy is expendable, and reports say that he is ready to catch in the bigs right now. They would probably trade him for something to help right now, but hard to see then getting more than a bullpen guy. Would love to give them back Rafi + cash, but that doesn't do it. Stammen? Storen seems like too much?

blovy8 said...

Alright, given all the catchers they've stockpiled, they could waive Solano pretty easily too.

blovy8 said...

Murphy is an interesting target, and it looks like he could actually play the corners a bit so there's even more value, if Ramos plays a lot.

Wally said...

blovy8 - what would you give up for him?

blovy8 said...

I would part with one of the fifth starter options not named Detwiler. He might have to start out at AAA, so my feeling is that the Yankees should get something similar, a viable fifth starter now with third starter upside. Even though he's high up in the Yankees list, that's not all that impressive a list.

Harper said...

seems right - I was going to say Karns. Jordan would probably work too. Roark is a bit iffier as that oddly low BABIP screams fluke season but the Yanks are kind of beggars when it comes to starter depth.

Wally said...

You guys probably are right, since I keep wanting it to be Stammen or Mattheus rather than guys I value, so that speaks 'homer'. I'd give up Karns or Roark, but I would kind of choke on giving up Jordan. I seem to have developed an irrationality on his upside. I keep seeing JZimm circa 2009

Anagramsci said...

no trading Stammen! That guy is really useful!

Anonymous said...

All of the pitching prospects proposed here seem way too much for a backup catcher. The more I look at what's out there, the more I have sort of come around to the maybe-Snyder-isn't-the-worst-we-could-do school of thought.

The other thing that has kept the Nats from leaping at the sorry John Bucks of the world is that Leon seems to have rediscovered what a bat is for during winter ball. His 2012 numbers at the plate were terrific, and if he can get back close to that, he'll hit enough to stick.

Plus one of these years, Ramos has to have things break his way, right? Maybe he needs to sacrifice a chicken or something. If he plays 135-40 games, he could hit 35-40 HRs and put himself and the Nats in a totally different realm.

Even with a healthy Ramos, a backup would play 25-30 games plus pinch hitting, so that's at least 150 ABs or so.

So I don't know. The Rays don't generally deal cheaply, which would worry me about trying to trade with them. I thought the Lobo-buzz had sort of died down.

So right now, we're praying: that Ramos stays healthy, that Snyder still has a little left in the tank, that Leon will rebound, that Nieto will be returned, and that Severino really is better than his .274 OBP suggests.

blovy8 said...

Well, while I think Rizzo is ok to begin the season with Snyder as the backup, Harper is right that you really are taking on a lot of risk. You're already pretty much certain to give whoever that is 30 starts. The last time Synder has to start was a long time ago, at least Lobaton split time with Molina and was solid last season. The hamstring issues have taken a long time to heal for Ramos when they happen. You have to wonder why the Rays felt the need to get Hanigan if they felt Loboton was good enough, but I suppose the price was right in the deal, in any case. But he might be that extra 1/2 win or so on the bench, and more if Ramos goes down again. It really shouldn't cost anybody useful.

blovy8 said...

The question becomes what is your eighth starter on the depth chart worth? I think it's arguable that those guys are worth more than the upgrade to Lobaton, but J.R. Murphy is certainly worth that, he's cheaper, can be controlled longer, has versatility, with the drawback being the risk he's not good enough to stick. But that's a risk with all the starters behind Det that you have to weigh. Oliver projects Murphy as an average catcher. I don't know what the full scouting report on him is, and given the way NY prospects get hyped that probably indirectly means he isn't all that great, so I am assuming he's not worth a top-10 Nats prospect back. If he's got an upside of that starting-quality level, you'd figure another club would give the Yankees more, however, the Nats are in a position of having the ML-ready starting pitching depth that the Yankees sorely need. They always look at this year, so a guy like Roark would appeal to them. For the Nats he's a guy fighting for a spot, but the backup catcher is certain to have one. The Yankees have blocked this guy with McCann. He probably doesn't beat out Cervelli or Romine this year, and Wally is right about Sanchez. That's the one blue-chip guy the Yankees have. He's the guy who either gets traded for the next hitter they need, or the guy who's supposed to push McCann to 1B and DH some of the time. It doesn't mean Murphy won't be good, it just means they won't take the time to find out, if they can get something that helps them this year. I like starting depth as much as anyone, but if I have Ohlendorf, Jordan, Karns, and the rehab guys backing up Det, I'll feel more comfortable, than assuming Ramos stays healthy all year.

The recent disclosure of Jordan's broken ankle, and Rizzo's reluctance to include him in the Fister deal makes him a sure depth guy. Losing Karns or Roark just gives Ohlendorf a couple more starts when someone gets a blister or groin pull. That's not terrible. If it stays status quo, I have to really hope Leon brings better than an AA-game in 2014.

Wally said...

Well, kind of an amalgam of our conversations. I'd still prefer Murphy, but I guess Lobo-cop presents a higher floor, which has value. From MLBTR

Rays, Nats Discussing Trade Involving Lobaton, Karns
By Jeff Todd [February 12, 2014 at 3:12pm CST]
The Rays and Nationals are again discussing a trade of catcher Jose Lobaton, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, with righty Nate Karns being contemplated as the return for the backstop. Topkin says that the deal could involve other players as well.

Donald said...

I'd do Karns for Lobaton straight up but it's curious that other names may be involved. If they are asking much more than Karns, not sure I'd do it. I'm holding out hope that Leon's bat improves. I think he's as good defensively as Lobaton and is also a switch hitter. He's also younger, so you'd have to decide how much incremental value you are getting from Lobaton. Still, if it were just Karns, I'd do it.

cass said...

And here's my predictable comment about the Nats being cheap not to match the Phillis offer to Burnett. Seems a shame he had to sign with Philly.

blovy8 said...

16 million is a lot for that guy, just ask the Yankees.

Wally said...

Updated rumor:
Rays, Nats Discussing Trade Involving Lobaton, Karns
By Jeff Todd [February 13 at 7:58am CST]
THURSDAY: The potential deal includes at least two other players, possibly minor leaguers that would head to Washington, reports Topkin.

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