The past two years have treated Dioner Navarro extremely well. The Tampa Bay Rays’ All-Star catcher in 2008, Navarro suffered through disastrous seasons for the Rays in 2009 and 2010 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011, forcing him to sign a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds for 2012. But Navarro, still just 28, hit to a .319/.382/.449 line at Triple-A to work his way onto the Reds’ roster, and after he hit .290 in 24 games, he inked a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Chicago Cubs for 2013. And with the Cubs, Navarro had his best offensive season ever, managing a .300/.365/.492 line to be an in-demand player this offseason. Now, he is about to sign with a so far unidentified team. Could that team in fact be the Rays bringing him back for his second term with the team?
Navarro has already had an encore with a team once, rejoining the Dodgers in 2011 after playing for them in 2005 and 2006. In the case of the Rays, a reunion may actually make sense. What is interesting about Navarro is that he is not only a catcher but a player that has mashed left-handed pitching his entire career. A switch-hitter, Navarro has a strong .267/.337/.441 line against lefties for his career, and in 2013, he upped that to an insane .361/.451/.672 line in 71 plate appearances, striking out just 5 times versus 9 walks and drilling 6 of his 13 home runs despite less than a third of his PA’s coming against lefties. His more reasonable success against right-handed pitching in 2013 (.764 OPS) can be described as a little more fluky, but it seems clear the Navarro can really hit lefties. On the Rays, Navarro would have the ability to do just that even on days he was not catching. He would be a great platoon partner for Jose Lobaton, who is stronger against right-handed pitching, and Jose Molina could fit into the rotation just fine with Navarro sliding to DH or even first base. The only thing necessary for this whole arrangement to work is for the Rays to sign a lefty batter to play either first base or DH, and the chances of that are pretty high. The Rays could have Lobaton catch for 70 games, Molina catch 52, and Navarro catch the remaining 40 with quite a few at other positions as well. Navarro is a better defender than Lobaton, but catching less could help him maintain success at the plate and set him up for an even bigger payday next offseason.
Navarro returning to Tampa Bay, though, would hinge upon two factors: is Navarro willing to catch less and are the Rays willing to outbid other teams to obtain his services? Navarro has not even played first base yet in his major league career and there is no reason to move him off catcher aside from a team need situation like the Rays. After we saw Stephen Drew sign with the Boston Red Sox for less last offseason because they were willing to let him be a full-time shortstop, the same reasoning could also hold true for Navarro. In addition, the Rays prefer to go for undervalued commodities and Navarro probably does not qualify. Teams are not crazy enough about him to consider him as a true starting catcher after 339 strong plate appearances the last two years, but he also finds himself highly-coveted for a backup or platoon role. Do the Rays believe enough in his abilities that they are willing to guarantee him say $3 million on a one-year deal?
There is a chance that the team about to sign Dioner Navarro is the team with whom he rose to prominence, the Tampa Bay Rays. If it happens, though, it will be a surprise because Navarro could fit on the team but both him and the Rays would probably prefer to go in different directions. It will be interesting to see where he does indeed sign, and it is always nice to have the Rays be in the running for a player who could improve their ballclub.