In November, the Blue Jays made a big splash in free agency, signing catcher Russell Martin to a huge 5-year deal. It was a massive coup and came as a surprise to many in the baseball world. There is no doubt that Martin makes the Jays a better team. He is an excellent receiver behind the plate. He put up a 5.5 WAR last season with Pittsburgh, and a 4.3 WAR the season before that. He has been to the postseason in seven of his nine seasons. He is a proven winner and he is Canadian – added bonus.
There was only one problem with the signing.
The Blue Jays already had a catcher.
Dioner Navarro had a very nice first season in Toronto. He hit .274 with a .712 OPS, 12 HR and a 2.3 WAR, and is still signed through this season at a modest $5-million. But now he is a man with no place to play.
So what should the Jays do? Keep him or trade him?
The Case for Keeping Him
Toronto’s offseason makeover included beefing up the lineup with the additions of Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders, giving the Jays one of baseball’s mightiest batting orders. But let’s be honest with ourselves – when you get past that fearsome top-6, the rest of the offense looks fairly weak, especially the bench players. Depending on who wins the starting jobs at 2B and CF, Toronto’s bench will likely include four of the following: Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, Kevin Pillar, Steve Tolleson, Danny Valencia, Dalton Pompey, and Josh Thole. Hardly a murderers row.
But adding Navarro’s name to that list instantly makes it more impressive. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe that Dioner is an MVP candidate in any way, but if the game is on the line in the 9th, I’d feel much more comfortable with him coming to the plate than Tolleson or Goins.
Of course, much of this depends on how much success Martin has catching R.A. Dickey. Josh Thole currently holds down one valuable roster spot because he can catch a knuckleball. Unfortunately, as we have seen over the past two seasons (.213 average, .550 OPS, -1.1 WAR) that’s about all he can do. If Martin can prove that he can handle Dickey, suddenly Thole becomes expendable, freeing up the backup catcher role for Navarro. Between that and a few games a week as DH, the Jays can keep his bat in the lineup on a consistent basis.
Even if Martin doesn’t have what it takes to catch Dickey, keeping Navarro is still a good option. Though he might not look like a typical DH, he can handle the bet better than the other candidates and has a decent amount of power.
The Case for Trading Him
It’s all well and good to simply move Dioner to a DH role, but here’s the thing: Dioner Navarro is a catcher. That is what he is paid to do, and that is why he was brought to this team in the first place. Telling somebody that he suddenly only has half the responsibilities that he did before is not likely to make him very happy.
Further, quality catchers are hard to find, and nobody knows that better than the Toronto Blue Jays (see Cash, Kevin; Arencibia, JP; Quiroz, Guillermo; Phelps, Josh; etc.). One would expect that Navarro holds a decent amount of trade value, especially when his modest salary and production level is factored in. Coupled with that is the fact that the Jays have several holes on the roster that could use reinforcements, such as the bullpen and a back-end starter. There is no guarantees that Navarro can fetch an All-Star on the trade market, but you would hope that an arm better than Todd Redmond might be available as the fifth man.
Finally, moving Navarro would potentially open a spot for a backup catcher (depending on what happens with Thole). Toronto currently employs a soon-to-be 25-year old in Buffalo by the name of A.J. Jimenez. While he might not be ready quite yet, having him in the big leagues to learn from Martin might do wonders for his development.
There’s no telling what Alex Anthopoulos will do with Navarro. As shown above, there is a case to be made for either option. But if there is one thing we know about the GM, it’s this: expect the unexpected.