Is Navarro Being Ushered out the Door?
Gail Burton / AP
In what might be a simple Tamp Bay two-step right now, the Tampa Bay Rays traded the always popular “Player To Be Named Later” today to the Cleveland Indians for experienced catcher Kelly Shoppach. The Rays will probably conclude the trade with a member of their current 40-man roster, and this trade announcement should be made public before December 20th.
The move gives the Rays a solid hitting catcher with a keen eye at the plate, and some much needed power in his bat. Shoppach, who has hit 33 HRs over the past two seasons is tied for second with American League MVP Joe Mauer in total HRs by an AL catcher. Another bright spot for the Rays is that Shoppach lead the American League in 2009 with 18 HBP. He is known to crowd the plate and makes opposing pitchers work hard to get him out at the plate.
And this trade is definitely a physical “calling out” of Rays current catcher Dioner Navarro. For the first time in many years, the Rays did not invite a experienced catcher to come into Spring Training in 2009 to push Navarro for his starting job. But now, this trade to upgrade the Rays offensive power behind the plate makes perfect sense considering that Navarro fell so far off the offensive wagon for the Rays last season.
Navarro’s seasonal batting average quickly dipped from a career high of .295 in 2008, to an anemic .218 this season. And combined with his offensive downfall, Navarro also saw his defensive statistics also take an unexpected tumble. At times, Navarro’s defensive game has been called into question several times during the 2009 season. Navarro’s caught stealing percentage dropped from 35.7 (25-70) percent in 2008, which was third best in the Major Leagues, to only 23.8 (19-80) percent in 2009.
Maybe this downward trend finally convinced the Rays to look somewhere else for catching help for 2010. I personally noticed several times during the season that Navarro was becoming a bit lazy behind the dish at times not coming out of his crouch for simple errant balls in the dirt. Navarro seemed to be not getting his glove down flat to the plate to prevent Wild Pitches or Passed Balls by adequately securing the baseball during games. Even though he was charged with only 5 Errors and 6 Passed Balls in 2009, his defense did take a huge step back in 2009.
Maybe this is a clear message to Navarro by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, an ex-catcher, and the Rays staff that they are about done with trying to fix Navarro’s many defensive woes. It seems to me to be a blatant message that Navarro has regressed and maybe was rested too heavy on his laurels after his 2008 All Star season.
But this is not the first time in the last few months the Rays have not tried to send a message to Navarro. You have to think that when the team traded Arizona Fall League standout Ryhne Hughes to Baltimore for veteran Gregg Zaun, the young catcher would finally get the message. For some reason, Navarro did not read into the transaction that things might not be so rosy under the surface with his game performances in 2009.
And considering Navarro, like Shoppach is also up for arbitration this season, it might be a clear indicator that Navi’s time is about to end in Tampa Bay. With the trade for Shoppach, it is a clear that Navarro is now clearly behind the 8-ball and might not be tendered a contract by the Rays this off season. You have to imagine that the Rays would not trade an arbitration eligible player unless they plan on giving him a contract offering.
And with the Rays not fully disclosing if they might be one of the 8 said teams talking with Zaun for 2010, this is a clear measure by the Rays to get the attention of their 2009 Opening Day catcher. Zaun has made recent comments that within the next week, or before the MLB Winter Meetings, he will announce his 2010 destination.
Another player that could make some noise in this recent transaction is Rays back-up catcher Shawn Riggans, who is currently playing Winter Ball in Puerto Rico for Gigante de Carolina. Riggans is not arbitration eligible, and would only cost the Rays $450,000 compared to a possible $ 2.5 million arbitration ruling for Navarro. The play of Riggans in Puerto Rico might be a key component to the team even considering either Zaun or Navarro for 2010.
Since Riggans did spend 97 days on the DL, and played in only 6 games for the Rays in 2009, his durability is a keystone to any catching arbitration moves by the team.
Riggans is currently hitting .211 average with a solo HR and a .429 Slugging Percentage during Winter ball. Riggans has caught in 5 of Gigante de Carloina’s 11 games this season. His injury situations over the last few seasons could be another factor to securing a solid player like Shoppach.
After the Rays traded for Zaun in August 2009, Navarro’s agent, Kendall Almerico was famous during the rest of the season for sending email and text messages to the Rays front office supporting his clients abilities with direct comparisons to the newly acquired Zaun. Almerico also represented Navarro in 2008 when he was trying to obtain a $ 2.5 million 2009 salary during Navarro’s first run during arbitration.
The Rays currently hold Navarro’s rights for three more season, or until 2011, then he would become a free agent. But after all of Almerico’s 2008 pre-arbitration ” talk” about respect, and the hearing maybe effecting Navarro long term relationship with the team. The Rays might be visually showing Navarro their first move in the chess match towards any possible arbitration for Navarro by the Rays.
Considering that the Indians did pick up a pretty good catching prospect in Lou Marson in the player return with the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Cliff Lee, it might be a long shot that Navarro could be the “PTBNL” in todays deal. So maybe Navarro’s career clock with the Rays is ticking louder and louder right now in his household. Because the Rays might have cast the first stone to bring in a viable replacement to Navarro in the Rays lineup. The next comments by Navarro or Almerico might seal his fate in Tampa Bay.