Nationals Baseball: Karns-ac the Magnificent

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Karns-ac the Magnificent

A Carson reference! How timely!

The main problem people have with a potential the completed Nate Karns for Jose Lobaton deal can be stated thusly "Why give up an arm with potential for a back-up catcher that if all goes right will barely be used"? 

It's a valid question.  Lobaton at 28 had a decent season at starter/back-up for the Rays last year but previously had put together one season (2011 in AAA) that even remotely pegged him to be a decent starter. They say catchers develop late and perhaps he did. Good minor league 2011, standard pretty bad back-up catcher in 2012, and good part-time starter in 2013. The trend is there if you want to see it. But 28 isn't just late, it's peaking and chances are he's given most of what he can.

Karns on the other hand is a true power arm, who racked up impressive strikeout and ERA numbers in the low minors in 2011 and 2012. The downside, as it is with most power arms, is that walks have always been an issue for him though. In AA last year he wasn't as impressive. He still struck guys out but he really gave up the long ball at a much higher rate. That was certainly evident in his brief major league stint where he gave up 5 HRs in 12 innings pitched. That's "OMG PITCHING MACHINE HR DERBY!" levels. At an older age 26* he's also on the older side for a prospect.

Still Karns has that potential, why deal? Because the same reason you applied to Jose Lobaton. If all goes right Nate Karns will also barely be used.

If all goes right Detwiler is healthy, takes the #5 spot and Taylor Jordan, 25 and with a better major league audition, takes the role of next-up.  What about 2015? The only thing that changes in this perfect world is that the much younger AJ Cole would take his place in line, likely ahead of Jordan. And in 2016 when ZNN and Fister might be gone? If all goes right here's Lucas Giolito stepping up while Karns, all the while doing well in AAA (it is an "everything goes right" scenario) slides from "maybe 2nd in line" in 2014, to "time to make him a reliever" in 2016.

"But everything may not go right!" you say. EXACTLY. That's why you want Lobaton! Ramos might get injured. Chris Snyder is probably done.

Karns does have potential, but at only a year and a half younger than Zimmermann and Detwiler, and older than Strasburg he's rapidly aging out of the range where you might expect big things from him. A mediocre 2014 paired with a couple guys doing well would virtually end the chances of Karns being a starter for the Nats.

The deal is a good back-up catcher now for a guy who might be a back-end starter for a couple years.  Its a potentially very small gain for 2014 for a probably at best modest gain in some future time frame. The future still matters. That's why you don't deal a Cole or Giolito for Lobaton. But 2014 matters too, which is why you do deal a Karns.

*For my purposes I think like this - an "old" age for a prospect is someone who turns that age at the back end of a season. an "older" age is someone who turns that age between seasons end and the new year. A "young" age is someone who turns that age during the season in question. This helps differentiate between the 25 year old who will actually turn 26 in say August, and the 24 year old who turns 25 in May.  For stat keeping they are both 25, but there is a difference in how you'd evaluate the two. Relevant for me between ages...say 22 and 28. Before 22 you are pretty much just young. After 28 you are pretty much just old.


Wally said...

Your description of Karns value to the Nats seems logical, but also a little like DET's rationalization for the Fister trade. Don't you also have to ask 'but is this the best that we can get for him' rather than just whether he brings back a piece that is currently needed? If it is close, ok fine pay a little extra to avoid the hassle of multiple trades. But if there is a wide disparity, you may be giving up too much. Don't you at least call the Astros and see what they would offer? I mean, I wouldn't bet on Karns being a starter - I see more of a right handed Jake McGee as his ceiling. But if someone does think that they can turn him into a starter, they probably pay up for the chance.

Don't get me wrong: I am pretty sure Rizzo has done that. These kinds of deals seem like his strength as a GM. But I was just commenting on your logic.

Harper said...

"Don't you at least call the Astros and see what they would offer?"

I suppose but what if the best they could offer is a Moore/Skole? Or a Karns in return? It have slightly more value in the abstract sense than a Lobaton but be slightly less valuable for that Nats, if that makes any sense.

Donald said...

I agree with the logic and would trade Karns for Lobaton, I think. My concern isn't so much about losing Karns as it is about getting Lobaton. He *may* be an improvement over Leon in 2014. At least he isn't as much of a risk. But are you trading Karns for just a 1 year insurance policy and then you hope to have better options in 2015? Or are you thinking Lobaton is your back-up for the next 3 years, cuz if that's the case, I'd hope we could do better even if it meant giving up more.

JWLumley said...

Karns is to Fister, what gold is to aluminum cans, sure they both have value, but selling them is a completely different proposition. When you have something of extreme value what you can sell or trade it for has many greater possibilities because it could be something of equal value or several less valuable things whose value adds up (for the seller at least)to greater or equal value. Sure the Nats could've gotten a prospect or big leaguer who may have provided more value or higher WAR for Karns, but I don't think they could have gotten someone they needed who would have provided for value for the 2014 Nats. Good trade IMHO.

What I take umbrage with is this Giolito in 2016 notion. Giolito could be in big leagues this year and I expect him to make a significant contribution in 2015. His stuff is that good, just needs a third pitch, but could certainly be above average with two pitches.

Wally said...

JWL - eh, maybe (although kudos for using 'umbrage'). Sounds like the drafting for need argument, instead of best player available. If this was 1-1 like Billy Boy says, I think it was an overpay, although not massive and I like that they upgraded the backup C spot.

So let's tie in a few recent conversations - if the Yanks would do JR Murphy for Karns straight up (which I think they would), which was the better deal for us, taking everything into account? I think that I would have done Murphy. My reasoning is this: I think Lobaton will be fine as a back up C, but lacking if he has to play full time for an extended time. I think Murphy's floor would be slightly less fine as a backup C, but acceptable and better than the Onion, while a reasonable ceiling puts him as adequate for extended time as the starter.

But in all of those events, primary hope by a wide margin is Ramos catching 120 g/yr for the next 5 years.

JWLumley said...

@Wally I agree it was probably an overpay, but it was an overpay with an asset you were probably never going to use. The difference between that and drafting for need, is that draft picks are years away, hard to project etc. etc. That being said, if they could have gotten Murphy for the same price, then I agree you make the trade for Murphy because there's a lot more upside there.

Wally said...

Sounds like we are getting two top 30 prospects back too, and I trust Rizzo on that kind of stuff. This is starting to look like a pretty good deal for both sides: we get a backup C improvement for right now, and some longer term prospect hope. They get a quality, near MLB-ready prospect that probably has a floor of a decent RP, with a ceiling of a #3 SP. Actually seems like the proverbial win-win.

John C. said...

If the trade had been Karns for Lobaton straight up I'd have understood it, but been pretty unhappy about it. Karns for Lobaton plus two prospects, one of whom has some upside as a LHRP? Yeah, I'm OK with this deal.

JWLumley said...

Wow, this trade just changed big time. I would have dealt Karns for Lobaton and thought it an overpay, but an overpay from a strength for a weakness, getting Vettleson (a former 1st rounder) and future everyday big leaguer makes this a great trade for the Nats. Toss in some org depth in Rivero and wow great trade by Rizzo. Karns has a big fastball, but I'm just not a believer.

Chas R said...

The more I learn abut this trade, the more impressed I am with Rizzo.

In addition to acquiring Lobaton as a backup catcher upgrade, we also get two 22-year-old minor leaguers - left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson. Rivero won nine games and posted a 3.40 ERA in 25 games (23 starts) last season for high Single-A Charlotte. He is 29-25 with a 3.45 ERA in 96 games, including 65 starts. Vettleson has batted .276 with 66 doubles, 15 triples 26 home runs, 171 RBIs and 45 stolen bases. Last season, he hit .274/.331/.388 with four homers and 62 RBIs at Charlotte, primarily playing right field.

Rivero and Vettleson ranked No. 17 and No. 20, respectively, on Baseball America's ranking of Rays prospects entering this season.

blovy8 said...

Yeah, the two prospects make a big difference. I also wonder if you can ever have enough catchers. There are a couple of durable guys, but it's a tough spot to stay healthy. I suspect Leon will still get a chance if his hot bat survives the trip back over the equator.

Anonymous said...

Giolito has a 3rd's called a Change-up. Ask any scout who saw him in Auburn. If you think he's a two pitch guy, you're way off base. Also, the Nats have taken away his 2-Seamer...for now. Acts like a sinker. So you're looking at a guy who could have 4 legitimate pitches in his arsenal when he hits the Bigs. I can't wait. 2015? No. 2016? Yes...if he remains healthy.

DezoPenguin said...

Obviously the best-case scenario is that Snyder still has something left in the tank and can give us a plus-defense backup (kind of like Jose Molina himself was a few years ago), or that Leon's finally learned to hit. Neither one of those cases is toweringly likely, and Lobaton's predictably average. Average would have been a nice uptick over 2012 Flores and 2013 Suzuki/Solano. And now we have four bodies between having to see Solano's name in the lineup, which is never bad.

I have no clue if the added prospects are likely to add up to anything, but they're more likely than Karns, simply because Karns's window in Washington was closing fast. Barring injury disaster, the next couple of years aren't going to leave more than a #5 spot to fight over in the rotation, and either ZNN or Fister or both might get extended, as well. Karns, meanwhile, currently sits behind Detwiler, Jordan, and Roark on the depth chart, and isn't even necessarily ahead of Ohlendorf, which makes him, maybe, our #9 starting pitching option right now.

It also never hurts to forget that the Nationals are in "win now" mode. The NL remains a pretty weak league (especially since the Pirates and Reds both look weaker than last year) and the NL East has only one other serious competitor. Swapping a prospect that the Nats aren't ever likely to get any productive use out of to shore up a genuine weakness in the team isn't a bad plan.

Sirc said...

I like it.

Lobaton is fine, and fills a need. Plus he's cheap and under team control.

But that isn't why I'm happy with it. I like the clear demonstration that they are planning for this year.

Karns wouldn't play this season unless Noah needed to build another Arc. The backup catcher is starting 40 games behind a healthy starter. Lobaton is better than the other current options in the system. Ergo, it's all about this year.

Plus I'm sure those two throw-ins Tampa sent will be starters in a couple of years. Right?

Nevermind, it's about This Year.

Nattydread said...

Nice call on Lobaton. Which bar do you and Rizzo go for drinks?

cass said...

Nat's just added over half a win, perhaps closer to one win. And they didn't really give up any wins in exchange. So this makes the team better. Good deal.

I do wonder how many wins better Burnett would be than our 5th (or 6ths, expecting an injury) starter, though, and whether that would have been worth it for $16 million. It would just be a one-year budget increase and wouldn't inhibit the Nats ability to lock up our core. I still don't understand how the Nats say no on that. Turning a strength into a super-strength is still a good thing to do. Certainly would be a better move than adding Soriano was last year. Much better, really, and for much less money.

Zimmerman11 said...

Ubaldo is still out there, right? If AJ went for one year, I say pick him up... Our bullpen is better with Detwiler in it...and if/when something happens injury wise, we're pulling from a deeper pool of talent to slot into the 5th spot in the rotation.

Harper, it is clear that Rizzo is a regular reader of your column, with the rumors around Jeff Baker and the pickup of Lobaton, among others. Wonder what handle he comments under? Donald? Dezo Penguin?

blovy8 said...

Rizzo's not going to lose the #1 pick for Ubaldo or Santana. The only thing they do better than Det is stay on the field. Yeah, every pitcher is different, but those one-year deals have not been kind to the Nats and as good as h'e been, Burnett's been pretty averagish on the road - I think that ballpark in Pittsburgh helped him. It'll be interesting to see if the bandbox in Philly will be as nice to him.

Donald said...

On a different note (or mailbag question), you've probably read some of the thread over at fangraphs in regard to Jeter. I know you are a Yankees fan, so I'm guessing you have an opinion. The gist of the discussion is that he was a poor fielder but in a the toughest position to field so if you judge him against all positions and not just SS, he wasn't that bad. But the flip side is as a hitter, he was great when compared against other SS, but when compared against all positions, he was merely good.

How do you rate Jeter? I think most people agree that he's a sure Hall of Famer but it's surprising the amount of ink the discussion gets trying to convince people that he was mediocre.