Navarro’s Rays Clock Ticking Faster
Somehow I knew the writing was on the wall for Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro. And not just because of the emergence of John Jaso, but because the once “stealthy” catcher had now become predictable. There was a time when Navarro would provide offensive mastery and blocks ball behind the plate like his dinner depended on it. But those days became far and end between in 2009, and beginning in 2010, you knew it was a make it or break season for Navi.
And with a Minor League option still attached to his name, it seems that a travel visa( ticket) is in the near future for the Rays former All-Star. But it has been a long time since Navarro has acted like his former All-Star self as his batting average and defensive skills have somehow diminished and all but guarantee his departure when Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett can come back off the disabled list on June 15th.
But is sending Navi down to the Triple-A Durham Bulls going to ravish his career, or will it be an immediate wake up call to either fight his way back to the Rays come September, or be vanquished to the minors and possibly traded later this year. It is truly a human gut check time for Navarro, and we might just see if the Rays own version of the Stay Puff Marshmallow man has the killer instinct and determination still in his belly to fight for his Major League Baseball existence.
Navarro has been down this road before after being signed as a free agent by the New York Yankees, he was thought to be the future catching star of the Pinstripes before his work ethic and his weight went different directions and the Yankees tired of his yo-yoing tendencies. He was quickly dispatched via a trade to the West Coast and the Los Angeles Dodgers where he was thought to be a buffer before current Dodger starter Russell Martin was ready to take the throne.
Even there, the effort and the talent seemed like polar opposites and he was again jettisoned to the Rays where it almost seemed like his last tango in Tampa Bay might be his last chance to show he had the talent and the ability to match up as a Major League catcher. And this team has never been known for their catching prospects, or even its starting catcher providing offensive numbers that make you take a positive second glance. Navarro had a middle-of-the-road beginning with the Rays before his 2008 explosion put him front and center in the company of the elite.
But just as fast as he risen to the top, he adamantly fell from grace in 2009 showing the “old” Navarro tendencies again and a lack of defensive fortitude in even remotely blocking balls bouncing all over the plate. He had relinquished the “stealth” side of his nature and again fell into the predictable mode. RRCollection
But the question now might just be which direction will he turn towards if demoted to the Bulls? Will he take it as a moral imperative to improve, reevaluate and resurgence to his career, or languish in pity and remorse for a bit before again striking out to rebuild?
This time June 15th might be the defining date of Navarro’s career. And the steps he takes from that moment on will define his Major League Baseball chances, or be the beginning of his demise. I have been a conscientious observer of Navarro over the last several months and have seen his bat come alive at moment, but also seen him falter when needed in the clutch. But with this Rays team striving now to revisit the “Promised Land” again, can Navarro regain his former self to rejoin and step with his Rays teammates into that hallowed ground again?
It is up to Navarro right now to impress a certain former catcher, Rays Manager Joe Maddon, that this decision was not needed. That he had the heart and soul of this team vested close to his own heart and hit the ground running in Durham. Most important might be his indication to the team of his sweat and grit while down in the minor so if Kelly Shoppach or John Jaso fall to fall to injury or their own offensive woes, he is ready to don his catching gear at this level with the full confidence of his Rays Manager.
Gail Burton/ AP
This truly is going to be a gut check time for Navarro both as a person and as a professional athlete. How he reacts and interprets the final decision of Maddon and the Rays front office on June 15th will be critical to if they see him in the Rays future in 2010. I can end this with a few hundred different baseball cliché’s as to what Navarro needs to accomplish in his time left with the Rays. But in the end, it will be how, and what Navarro does with this last few impressions that will set deep within the Rays organization’s minds as to his viable future with this team beyond June 15th.
How Navarro carries himself out of that Rays clubhouse on that date could be the true telling point to his Rays career. Navarro can either stand tall and stride out of that Rays clubhouse with honor and a plan of action, or he can saunter out with bitterness and angst and hit Durham with a chip on his shoulder. This might be the biggest moment of Navarro career because it will define his future….even if it is not with the Rays.