Could Dioner Navarro Return to the Rays?

By David Hill

Sep 13, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro (30) gestures into the dugout against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pop quiz – can you name the only Tampa Bay Ray to make the All-Star team as a catcher? Give up? The answer is none other than Dioner Navarro, who made the All-Star team as a reserve back in 2008. Granted, the Rays have not had much at catcher over their history, but Navarro’s .295/.349/.407 batting line is among the best that the Rays have had in their franchise history.

However, that season essentially came out of nowhere for Navarro. Prior to 2008, he had produced a batting line of .247/.316/.360, with half of his career home runs coming in 2007. The next year, Navarro slumped to a .218/.261/.322 rate, before his production fell off the proverbial cliff in 2010. Navarro bounced around afterwards, playing for the Dodgers and the Reds before surfacing with the Cubs last season. As it turned out, Navarro’s time in Chicago wasn’t just another stop on the road but a turning point. Navarro clubbed a career-best thirteen home runs, including three in one game, while posting a .300/.365/.492 batting line. As the Cubs backup catcher, Navarro had his most plate appearances since 2009, and hit well virtually all season. His defense, which had been solid, improved to be a bit above league average. Navarro also held his own in the running game, throwing out 26% of would be base stealers.

A free agent, it may be that Navarro could be the type of player that the Rays give a look to as a potential starting catcher. Jose Lobaton acquitted himself fairly well with the bat, but fell off in the month of September, hitting only .184/.305/.286. Lobaton, while not terrible defensively, as virtually a non-factor in the running game, throwing out a paltry 14% of runners. Chris Gimenez, the other possible catching option for the Rays next season, may well be more of a utility player, as he can play both corner outfield positions and third base. This could leave the door open for the Rays to potentially look at bringing in another catcher.

Why not Navarro? Although he seems as though he has been around forever, Navarro will still only be 30 heading into next season, and catchers do have a tendency to develop their offense at a slower rate than other positions. It may be possible that Navarro finally developed, and may be on the verge of being a true starting catcher in every facet of his game. Of course, the Cubs may have also caught lightning in a bottle with Navarro’s performance last season. However, even with the risk of his 2013 being a fluke firmly in their minds, Dioner Navarro may be a gamble that the Rays look to take.

If Navarro is willing to accept a contract for something close to the $1.75Million he earned last season, Navarro may find himself back in a Rays uniform. No time in the foreseeable future will the Rays have the funds to sign an above-average starting catcher on the free agent market. If Navarro has truly turned the corner, though, he may be the closest thing the Rays could possibly get.