The Toronto Blue Jays agreed to sign catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year contract Monday, addressing a position of need with a move that likely spells the end of J.P. Arencibia’s tenure in Toronto.
Terms: Two years, $8 million
2013 stats: .300 average, .365 OBP, .492 slugging, 13 home runs, 34 RBI, 2.0 wins above replacement
Draft implications: Not linked to draft pick compensation
Roster impact: Navarro turned an impressive 89-game stretch into a two-year contract with the Blue Jays that sets him up to start in Toronto. Though the 29-year-old hasn’t always hit as well as he did this year, his career batting line of .267/.337/.441 against left-handers suggests he can produce against southpaws.
However, there are questions about Navarro’s durability. He played in just 89 games last year, and has averaged 56 games played since 2010. Relying on Navarro to catch 100-plus games represents a significant risk for Toronto given his past troubles staying healthy.
Josh Thole looms as the presumed backup for the 2014 Blue Jays with prospect A.J. Jimenez poised to make a difference at the MLB level at some point next year. It’s possible the Blue Jays will look to add another backstop between now and opening day to ensure that they have enough depth in case of injuries, but any catching additions would presumably be minor at this stage.
It’s also worth noting that Navarro left the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2010 playoffs when they declined to add him to their post-season roster. While the circumstances surrounding that decision aren’t known in full, the optics were bad since it looks like he put himself before his team.
The addition of Navarro likely means Arencibia won’t be playing for the Blue Jays in 2014. Instead, the Blue Jays are expected to trade the catcher, who became a fan favourite before a difficult 2013 campaign.
Though Arencibia’s trade value has dropped considerably in the past year, he may still have appeal to teams seeking catching help. Even after a difficult season, the right-handed hitting 27-year-old offers power and durability.
The Chicago Cubs will move on without Navarro, relying instead on the right-handed hitting Welington Castillo and the left-handed hitting George Kottaras.
Analysis: The cost is reasonable given Navarro’s age and resume. He wasn’t among the top free agent catchers available, but he didn’t get paid like one. Comparable two-year deals for catchers since 2010 include A.J. Pierzynski ($8 million), Miguel Olivo ($7 million), Yorvit Torrealba ($6.25 million) and David Ross ($6.2 million). In a sport where backup catchers regularly earn $3 million per season, $4 million per season is reasonable for Navarro at a time that he’s coming off of a career year.
Keeping Arencibia through the arbitration process for the 2014-15 seasons would likely have cost approximately $8 million. Instead, they spent on Navarro, who turned the best offensive season of his career into a deal that will double his career earnings.
While Navarro’s history against left-handed hitters is encouraging, his numbers against right-handers are unimpressive (.245/.304/.346). Thole, a left-handed hitter, will no doubt start for Toronto against some right-handers. But if Thole continues catching R.A. Dickey the pair wouldn’t be used in a traditional platoon.
Now the Blue Jays must turn their focus to their other off-season needs — namely the starting rotation and potential upgrades at second base. The deal leaves Jarrod Saltalamacchia atop the free agent catching market. Though the switch-hitting catcher no longer appears to be a fit in Toronto, he’s set to obtain a lucrative multi-year contract of his own from one of the many teams still seeking catching depth.
All things considered: Navarro provides the Blue Jays with some offensive upside for a reasonable price and term, though legitimate questions exist about his durability and left-handed swing.
General manager: Alex Anthopoulos
Agency: Melvin Roman