Dioner Navarro was nearly the Blue Jays hero on Tuesday night against the Yankees, belting a frozen rope over the left field wall to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. The comeback would prove empty, but brought to light one of the Blue Jays quietest contributors in 2015.
The Blue Jays didn’t necessarily need Russell Martin this past offseason, with Navarro coming off a strong campaign of his own and set to make just $5 million in the final year of his contract. Well aware of this, Navarro initially requested that GM Alex Anthopoulos work to find him a starting opportunity elsewhere in the league. This was handled professionally by both sides, and thankfully fell short of creating any “trade demand” drama around the team.
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“I can’t say enough about him. He’s been tremendous,” Anthopoulos recently told Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun. “In the off-season, when we signed Russ, I called Dioner and we spoke and I reiterated to him that, hey, we’ll be open-minded and if something comes up we’ll definitely look to do that for him, and that was it.”
While maintaining his preference of a starting role, Navarro never allowed for this to distract from the job at hand. “I’m happy everyday. Even when I requested a trade I was happy,” he added. “I understand it’s a business. I got a family, I got three kids and a wife, I’m not only thinking about this year. I’m thinking of the future too.”
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The right scenario never did come up, but the Blue Jays have been left better off because of that. Since the All Star break, Navarro has turned it around offensively to produce a .275 average with three home runs and nine RBI in just 69 at-bats. Navarro has also controlled the running game very well, throwing out 41% of would-be base stealers.
His presence allowed the Jays to rest an ailing Russell Martin when needed without losing much from their lineup, which then allowed their regular starter to round the corner from his leg injury. Now, Navarro will enter the playoff run as a primary pinch-hit option late in games.
With bats like Ryan Goins and Cliff Pennington as potential regulars towards the bottom of the lineup, John Gibbons could be making some frequent trips to the bench in October. Not to mention the shuffling that will come with pinch runners and defensive replacements. Behind one of Chris Colabello and Justin Smoak, Navarro could be next up. If it comes down to just he and Smoak, I’d even be tempted to give Navarro the first nod.
Such wouldn’t be possible if the Jays had of found a trading partner for their veteran backup, and frankly, the return for him may not have been enough to impact this current roster as is. Now, Navarro finally gets some of the love he deserves, and some positive light in a season where he could have easily chosen to be a distraction.