On TV broadcasts of MLB games, some players get fresh starts while others do not. When a player is traded–or signed, claimed off waivers, etc.–from one league to the other, usually his new team’s broadcast network starts his statistics from scratch. If he gets a hit in his first at-bat, he will be hitting 1.000 the next time he comes to the plate. On the other hand, if a player stays within the same league as he joins a new team, he often gets no such reprieve. Even a roaring start with the franchise can be overlooked if he struggled earlier in the year in his previous city.
The latter has been the case with Daniel Nava. His numbers on the season are still quite bad–a .191/.313/.236 line in 132 plate appearances–and we obviously need to take that into account. When we try to predict how Nava will perform in the future, it will be quite pertinent that he struggled enough to start the 2015 season that the Red Sox exposed him to waivers despite his solid results from 2012 to 2014. For right now, though, the overall statistics don’t do a great job of answering the first question that comes to mind for the casual Tampa Bay Rays fan: “Why is this guy on the Rays?”
Since joining the Rays, Nava has made only 54 plate appearances, not enough time to evaluate whether he can be a productive player for this team moving forward. Nava is making $1.85 million this year–most of that being paid by the Red Sox–and the Rays will need to pay him at least that much money next year to retain him through arbitration. It isn’t clear that he is worth that type of money. However, we can also say that the early returns for Nava with the Rays have been pretty good–he has hit to a .250/.389/.318 line (102 OPS+) with his first homer of the season and an impressive 8 walks against 9 strikeouts.
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Nava admittedly isn’t hitting for much power, and it is worth asking whether he will ever come close to matching his 12 home runs from 2013. The fact that we are talking about 2013 and not 2014, though, makes it easy to predict the next thing I will say: he was productive in 2014 without much power. He hit to a .270/.346/.361 (104 OPS+), enough to make him a valuable player (3.4 bWAR, 2.6 fWAR) when paired with strong corner outfield defense and solid baserunning. Hopefully he can trade a few of his walks from his time with the Rays to get more of his power back, but Nava’s time with the Rays has seen him demonstrate a lot of the same abilities that made him a nice player for the Red Sox.
Finally, the fact that Nava’s overall numbers are so bad helped the Tampa Bay Rays acquire him and will help his new team in another way this offseason. If Nava was playing well this year and was in line for a raise to $3 million or more, maybe that would be too costly for the Rays. After all, he fits best as a backup platoon player behind higher-upside outfield and first base options.
However, given just how terrible Nava looked with Boston, Nava is not in line for any sort of arbitration raise–if the Rays are nice, maybe they will give $2 million compared to his $1.85 million salary for this year. That is a more tenable number, and gives the Rays an entire year to decide whether Nava would remain a worthwhile player to have at a higher price than that.
Maybe Daniel Nava will play poorly for the next month and be non-tendered by the Tampa Bay Rays. Or maybe they will retain him only to release him when he gets back to struggling next season. There is downside that remains with Nava, and we certainly can’t say that 54 plate appearances is enough to say that he is back to being the player that he was in 2014 with Boston. On the other hand, he is showing signs of getting on track and $2 million is a small price to pay for a player with Nava’s track record. As of right now, Matt Silverman is looking good for claiming Nava off of waivers and may get a player for next year for his efforts.