After the Rays re-signed Jose Molina, it appeared that they were set for a catching tandem of Molina and Jose Lobaton for a third straight season. Instead, the Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan from the Cincinnati Reds, and it became all but inevitable that Lobaton would be traded away. A month and a half ago, we discussed Lobaton’s potential trade market, concluding that the Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, and Arizona Diamondbacks could all be potential suitors. As it turns out, the White Sox, Nationals, Rockies, and D-Backs are indeed interested, as are the Cleveland Indians and New York Mets.
Lobaton, 29, is coming off a strong offensive season for the Rays, hitting to a .249/.320/.394 line (100 OPS+) with 15 doubles, 7 homers, and 32 RBI in 311 plate appearances. Defensively, he has never been good at throwing out attempted basestealers (16% career caught stealing rate), but he developed a strong reputation with the Rays’ pitching staff and proved himself adept at blocking balls in the dirt. Lobaton may not have the all-around ability to be a starting catcher for a contending team, but he profiles extremely well as an offense-first backup and it is understandable that there is plenty of demand for him.
The Rays are a nice position because they have absolutely no need to keep Lobaton. Hanigan and Molina will be their catchers, and with Lobaton out of options, the Rays would have to keep Lobaton on their 25-man roster to retain him. That is not a realistic possibility, making Lobaton an obvious trade candidate, whether it be now or at the end of spring training. The Rays are simply waiting for the right offer to arrive, and if they can get a solid prospect for a surplus player, they will be satisfied with where they ended up. The Rays had to give up outfield prospect Todd Glaesmann to acquire Hanigan, but the prospect they get in exchange for Lobaton will help offset that.
Losing Lobaton also opens up a 40-man roster spot, one that we knew the Rays were going to need eventually anyway. Mark Lowe, Jayson Nix, and Wilson Betemit are three players who were signed to minor league deals who are competing for a big league spot, and now the Rays will not need to make a corresponding move to add one of them to the roster. The most important aspect of this trade, though, is that Jose Lobaton will get his chance. Lobaton played well, and it was only a rare opportunity to acquire Hanigan that left him out of the mix on the Rays. The best place for his career to go from here is anywhere but Tampa Bay, and with all the interest he is generating, it is only a matter of time until that happens. It is unfortunate that it will not come with the Rays, but Lobaton still has a promising future ahead.