The Tampa Bay Rays’ biggest trade chip this offseason is David Price, and most people are convinced that it is only a matter of time until a deal comes together. The funny thing, though, is that Price is only the second-most likely Ray to be traded. Jose Lobaton went from postseason hero to out of a job when the Rays traded for Ryan Hanigan and re-signed Jose Molina, and the chances of him making the Rays’ Opening Day roster are now slim to none. Which teams could be interested with Lobaton available in the trade? Let’s look at possible suitors and look for the best fit.
Seattle Mariners: Jesus Sucre is currently lined up to the Mariners’ backup, and he has never really hit and shown inconsistent receiving. In a simple backup role, Lobaton could intrigue the Mariners because of his ability at the plate. What would be much more interesting, though, is if the Mariners deal Mike Zunino in a David Price trade with the Rays. Lobaton would be an obvious throw-in as the Mariners try to figure out their catching situation without Zunino, and he could be a candidate to start quite a few games for them next season should such a trade take place. Between the possibility of a Price trade and the Mariners’ need for a catcher even if they do not deal Zunino, the Mariners’ may be the favorite to acquire Lobaton’s services for next season.
Chicago White Sox: The one team that has been confirmed to be interested in Lobaton is the White Sox. After A.J. Pierzynski departed the south side of Chicago for the Rangers last offseason, the White Sox proceeded to have quite possibly the worst catching situation in all of baseball in 2013. Their catchers combined for just a .564 OPS, better than only the Miami Marlins, and they also ranked second in baseball with 21 passed balls. Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley remain on the team even after disastrous years, and they are joined by Rule 5 draft pick Adrian Nieto, who is coming off a strong offensive season, but only at High-A, and 12 passed balls are not a good sign for where his defense is at this point. Despite all the catchers they have, Lobaton is worth a look for the White Sox because he can actually hit. He would potentially be in line to start the bulk of their games.
Washington Nationals: Wilson Ramos has shown the ability to be a strong starting catcher in the major leagues, but just once in his major league career has he played in more than 100 games and having insurance behind him should be a priority for the Nationals. Their current options are Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon, but Solano can neither hit nor field and Leon could use more seasoning in the minor leagues. Lobaton would represent a solid option to be Ramos’ backup and potential fill-in should he get hurt. The Nationals desperately need a quality backup, and Lobaton will be worth a look.
Colorado Rockies: Having Jordan Pacheco as a versatile backup catcher behind Wilin Rosario is nice, but it only works out if Pacheco hits, something he did not do much of in 2013. The Rockies could look to upgrade their backup catcher position, and Lobaton could be a good fit to pair with Rosario. Rosario is much better against lefties than righties, opening up Lobaton for a couple of starts a week, and Lobaton’s solid ability to block balls in the dirt would be a welcome change after Rosario led the National League in passed balls the last two years. The Rockies will hope to find a true backup catcher before the offseason is through, and Lobaton could be a strong candidate.
Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy is a strong starting catcher, but Lobaton could be excellent as a complement to him. Martin Maldonado did nothing backing him up, managing just a .520 OPS in 202 plate appearances that was not nearly negated by his 30% caught stealing rate, and the Brewers could look to improve on that with Lobaton. Lobaton would give the Brewers a backup catcher that could provide some offense, and with Lucroy stronger against lefties than righties, Lobaton would be a good candidate to replace him once or twice a week against right-handed pitching. Lobaton’s solid switch-hitting bat could also make him an intriguing pinch-hitter for the Brewers. The Brewers will not go crazy for a backup catcher upgrade, but they could be interested at the right price.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-Backs have Miguel Montero locked up long-term, but with Montero coming off a rough year, his backup catcher becomes more important. With Wil Nieves heading to the Philadelphia Phillies, however, the player currently lined up to be Arizona’s backup is Tuffy Gosewisch, who has just 14 big league games under his belt. The Diamondbacks could be well-served to go for a more experienced backstop to pair with Montero–could Lobaton be an option? He would represent a clear upgrade over Gosewisch at the plate after a strong season for the Rays. The issue, though, is that Montero’s struggles were primarily against left-handed pitching and Lobaton is stronger against righties, meaning that he may not be the baackup the Diamondbacks are looking for. Gosewisch is a right-handed hitter who is better defensively that Lobaton, and he seems like the option Arizona would prefer.
We have not heard much on the Lobaton trade front so far, but there are several teams that could have interest and a couple of them could even look at him as a potential starting or tandem option. The only way Lobaton would be on the Rays’ roster at the start of spring training would be if the Rays didn’t get the type of offers they were looking for. However, with teams like the Mariners, White Sox, and Nationals all looking to solidify their catching corps, expect Lobaton to be dealt to a team that gives him an opportunity to build on his solid 2013 and show how far he can go as a catcher in the major leagues.