December 2009

Let’s add a Player to the Burrell/Bradley sweepstakes

 


Jim Prisching / AP

Blogger’s and commenter’s both around Tampa Bay and Chicago baseball communities have been writing and speculating about the teams trading their two “bad contracts” some time during this off season. Each squad currently has a current roster member set to make at least $ 9 million for the 2010 season, and both squads want to unload that contract for a variety of reasons.

And with the Winter Meeting set to start in Indianapolis soon, this potential deal seeming to be at a stalemate. Maybe it is time to add another piece into the whole trade scenario. Maybe it is time for one of these teams to buckle down and offer a second piece to the puzzle that makes it appetizing to either squad to complete this deal before the end of 2009.

Last night during a massive lightning show from thunderstorms racing through Florida, the answer struck me like lightning in my wet hammock. What if the Rays added a player from their overflowing catcher position to the mix as an tasty add-on to the trade? This would bring  the addition of experience and potential veteran presence to the Cubs currently young catching corps.

With the Rays recently getting veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach as another catching option for the team, the Rays currently have an overflow of catching talent. And this potential problem could be addressed quickly with the addition of one of the Rays rostered catchers being added to the Burrell/Bradley trade. It could be a spicy addition to the deal to entice the Cubs take the deal, as well as remove a catching decision by the Rays.

Flashing into my mind last night was the addition of Rays catcher Dioner Navarro to become a valuable veteran for the Cubs roster. Having Navarro’s presence as a back-up behind the plate should take pressure off Cubs starter Geovany Soto in 2010, and help him rebound after a bad 2009 season. Adding to this possible trade equation the fact that the Cubs current back-up catcher is also arbitration eligible, maybe the Rays and Cubs can include the arbitration eligible Navarro as a  clear upgrade to the position.

The Cubs currently have Koyie Hill as their back-up catcher, and he did appear in 83 Cubs games in 2009. That is over half of the Cubs  162 games where the back-up catcher was needed by the team to provide offense and stability.  With Hill entering his third season with the Cubs in 2010 and a total combined 179 games during his Major League career, he pales in comparison to veteran Navarro.

Navarro has appeared in 490 games during his Major League career and has a career .253 average with 33 HR and 173 RBI over that span.  And in the wind-aided confines of Wrigley Field, those numbers are sure to increase dramatically. Hill in comparison has a MLB career .213 average with 5 HR and 49 RBI.

The potential additional piece of Navarro to the trade brings an instant upgrade in power at the catching position, which is currently missing in the Cubs line-up. And considering that Soto did miss 26 games from July to August in 2009 with a left oblique strain,then came back to hit on .128 in August 2009,. His 0198 average in his 32 games since his return from the Disabled List might be of concern for the Cubs heading into 2010. This might be a clear indicator that a veteran offensive back-up catcher is a clear need for the team.

And with the Cubs adding up to a estimated $6 million to the Rays as salary relief in the deal, maybe the Rays can trim that amount to say, $5 million if the Cubs let Navarro’s name be added to the deal. It can be a great potential arbitration dowry or money chip for the Cubs to consider Navarro in the deal. With Hill making only $ 475,000 in 2009, it is estimated that he could get close to $1 million in arbitration.


Steve Nesius / AP

Navarro, who made $ 2.1 million in 2009, is estimated to maybe increasing to $2.5 million for 2010. With a saving of a $1 million salary chip in the Cubs hands after the Bradley trade, the team could add a valuable piece to their 2010 arsenal in catching power and experience.
And with Soto having a sub-par 2009 after a stellar 2008 National League All Star and Rookie of the Year season, Navarro would provide an instant answer for Cubs Manager Lou Piniella if Soto dramatically regresses or begins the year in another slump. 

The playoff experience and leadership of Navarro can provide instant credibility to the Cubs catching corps. With the Rays having three potential Major League catchers stuck at the minor league level in Shawn Riggans, John Jaso, and Joe Lobaton, the trading of Navarro would provide a chance for one of them to excel and possibly gain a spot on the Rays 25-man roster in 2010.

There will be a trade of Burrell and Bradley sometime this off season. The trade result might not include both the Rays and Cubs unless something is done to make the deal sweeter for the Cubs. This new trade idea gives relief to both franchises of their potential “bad contracts” while also adding another nice trade piece to the Cubs that will strengthen their roster.  For both Burrell and Navarro this trade would/could be a fresh start for both of them.

With the Rays potentially getting Bradley, they will have to make some concessions somewhere down the line to get this deal completed. By adding Navarro, they could bring this trade to a fast conclusion if the Cubs look at the potential of both  Soto and Navarro hitting above their 2009 averages and giving no offensive or defensive slack if either is inserted into the lineup.

Bradley currently has a provision in his Cubs contract where he gets a suite for every road series. And Burrell would get a possible $200,000 if he is traded during the duration of his contract. But those are minor pieces with the big picture of this deal getting completed by either team. In the long run,the Rays could get another shot to see if Bradley, the player the Rays pursued hard during the 2009 free agent season is the missing piece to their playoff formula.


Brian Blanco / AP

If I stand back and look at the possible idea of including Navarro as a trade piece to this puzzle. It really looks like a great solution to this deal happening before the end of the 2009. I know I am not privy to the inter working of the Rays front office, but in my mindset, this addition to the Burrell/Bradley scenario would make the Cubs a potential big winner in the overall scheme of this deal while also helping the Rays subtract a possible problem within their own roster.

And how rare is it for two teams to both come out as winner in a potential trade. In this scenario, both could come away smiling from ear-to-ear.
 

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. 


Elaine Thompson / AP

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.


RRCollections

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.

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