At this point, everybody knows one of the tasks on Boston’s to-do list this winter is finding a second catcher to pair with Christian Vazquez. While David Ross has filled the backup role admirably over the last two years, it’s unclear if he’ll continue playing in 2015 given his age and health concerns. Besides him, there are many other options to fill the role. Yesterday, Ben took a look at some of them in the wake of Russell Martin’s signing in Toronto, but there was one guy that he did not include who I wanted to take a closer look at today. That is Dioner Navarro, the man who Martin will be replacing in the Blue Jays’ starting lineup.
It’s not hard to see why he isn’t the most likely man to be brought in to play with Vazquez behind the plate. For one thing, it’s not absolutely necessary for Toronto to trade him. They will also need a second catcher, of course, although they may like the idea of keeping Josh Thole around to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. There is a scenario where they could keep three catchers and let Navarro DH, however.
On top of that, intradivision trades are always looked upon with skepticism, as it’s hard to see teams potentially helping their direct competition. With that being said, the drawbacks are much less severe in scenarios like this, when the players in question are one-year rentals that don’t carry huge value. In recent years, we’ve seen Jed Lowrie traded from Houston to Oakland, Alberto Callaspo go from the Angels to the Athletics, and a Michael Choice for Craig Gentry deal between Texas and Oakland. Which is to say, these things aren’t impossible.
So, if we get past the intradivisional trade part of this, how would he fit with the Red Sox? From my vantage point, Navarro seems like a very good player to pair with Vazquez. As I alluded to above, Navarro is only under contract for 2015, and will be hitting the free agent market after that. Even better, he’ll be owed just $5 million dollars in this upcoming season, hardly draining the team’s payroll. This allows them to let Blake Swihart take his time in Pawtucket this season without having to worry about how they’d fit him on the roster in coming years. If their ideal plan is to have Vazquez and Swihart form the backstop duo in 2016, this does nothing to alter that.
He also gives them a more productive player to put back there than someone like Geovany Soto or Nick Hundley. On the defensive side of things, Navarro is not going to blow anyone away, but he’s somewhere in the slightly-below-average-to-average range. He’s been rated as a below-average framer, but he blocks pitches well and seems to do a good job of dealing with the pitching staff. He’s not great at staving off the running game, but he’s been average at this as recently as 2013. So while the soon-to-be 31-year-old isn’t a defensive wizard, this isn’t another A.J. Pierzynski we’re talking about. Plus, defense is less of a concern when someone like Vazquez is the other backstop on the roster.
Offense is where Navarro brings his value, though. Whereas Vazquez’s bat is a big question mark heading into 2015, Navarro has been a steady hitter in the last couple years. Though he’s not likely match his 2013 line, he’s still been right at league-average production in 2012* and 2013 at a position where that is hard to come by. Looking at the last three years combined, he’s hit .284/.331/.429 in 859 plate appearances, good for a 110 OPS+. In 2014, he put up a 100 OPS+ in a career-high 520 trips to the plate. One downside is that Navarro may not fit the left-handed need Boston seems to be looking for. Although he’s a switch hitter, he’s had much more success from the right side over his career. It should be noted that he showed no discernible platoon split in 2014, but that is a clear outlier for his career.
*He was limited to just 24 games and 73 plate appearances in 2012
Looking at things from a more abstract view, he continues to be a good fit, as he should not have any negative impact on Vazquez’s development. Since Navarro will cost so little, the team should not feel any pressure to give him extra playing time over their young catcher. They can take it on a case-by-case basis and put each in the best situation to succeed. This is made even easier by the fact that Navarro has spent the vast majority of his career as a backup. On the other side of things, he should be productive enough where John Farrell won’t be obligated to overwork Vazquez to keep the Red Sox in the race.
Of course, all of this depends on the price Navarro will cost in a trade. If Toronto has a lot of suitors, they’ll be able to be more aggressive with their division rivals. In this scenario, Ben Cherington would be wise to move on to his other options. If the Blue Jays are more reasonable, though, a deal could very well get done. Assuming Melky Cabrera does not come back (which became more likely after Toronto splurged on Martin), they will have a hole to fill in a corner outfield spot. Jose Bautista will play one corner, but at the moment it appears they’ll be rolling with an Andy Dirks/John Mayberry platoon in the other. It just so happens that the Red Sox have a plethora of outfielders. Perhaps they could work something around Daniel Nava, with Toronto adding a little more value to the deal. If the Blue Jays wanted to go younger, Boston could offer players like Bryce Brentz or Henry Ramos, along with one of their second- or third-tier pitchers such as Teddy Stankiewicz or Jamie Callahan. It’s always hard to gauge how teams value their players, but the framework of a deal could clearly be agreed upon.
There is going to be no shortage of catchers available to fill the second spot on Boston’s roster for 2015, and Cherington will surely do his due diligence on all of them. Hopefully, the intradivisional hurdle won’t be something that stops conversations around Dioner Navarro. His offense would be a welcome addition behind the plate, and his defense is not nearly bad enough to kill them. It will all come down to how many teams show interest in the backstop, and how high Toronto can set their asking price for their division rivals. If the price is reasonable, though, Navarro would be a wonderful fit for the 2015 Red Sox.