The Tampa Bay Rays didn't really need Jose Lobaton after acquiring Ryan Hanigan and giving both him and Jose Molina multi-year contract extensions this offseason. So the Rays took care of that enviable problem by sending the 29-year old Lobaton to the Washington Nationals in exchange for starting pitcher Nate Karns. Also heading to Washington in the deal are a pair of top 30 prospects, pitcher Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson.
Lobaton will likely end up slotting into Washington's roster as the backup to starter Wilson Ramos, forcing Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon, Chris Snyder, and Koyie Hill to fight for playing time in the minor leagues. Lobaton had his best year with the Rays in 2013, hitting .249/.320/.394 with seven home runs. He has middle of the road power and walks at a double digit clip while being an adequate defender behind the dish. The 22-year old Rivero projects as a mid-rotation starter if he is able to harness his command. In 2013, he struck out 91 and walked 52 in 127 innings with high-A Charlotte. Vettleson is also 22, and he hit .274/.331/.388 for Charlotte with four home runs and five stolen base, a disappointing year after a breakout 2012.
Karns is the return for those three, and while he's 26, he also likely possesses the highest ceiling of any of the players involved in the deal. He spent nearly all of 2013 with AA Harrisburg and struck out 155 in 132 2/3 innings to go along with 48 walks. He also struggled in three major league starts, striking out 11, walking six, and allowing five homers in just 12 innings. If Karns can't stick in the rotation, because of health, consistency, or command, he could end up being a high-leverage reliever for Tampa Bay, an organization which has never shied away from turning failed starters into dominant relievers (hello, Jake McGee, Wade Davis, Alex Torres, J.P Howell).
This is a pretty solid trade for both sides. Washington gets some current value with an established backup catcher in Lobaton, and perhaps some future value with Rivero and Vettleson. Meanwhile, the Rays get some value for a guy (Lobaton) that they probably would have lost on waivers for nothing, picking up a player in Karns that won't need to step in right away and contribute. The Rays also cleared a second spot on their 40-man roster by dealing Rivero, giving them a little more flexibility later in the spring in case one of their numerous non-roster invitees impresses enough to earn a job on the Opening Day roster.