Blue Jays must work to retain Dioner Navarro this offseason


The relationship between the Toronto Blue Jays and Dioner Navarro could have become a much more volatile storyline this season. Coming off an impressive 2014 in which he posted a .274 average and 69 RBI, Navarro entered 2015 as a sensible starter with a reasonable salary at $5 million. His production has been limited behind Russell Martin, but the Blue Jays still must prioritize him in free agency this offseason.

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Navarro managed to cobble together a slash line of .246 / .307 / .682 while appearing in 54 games. A step down from his 2014 totals which were, themselves, a step down from his big year in 2013, but 2015 was a season that put Navarro fairly close to his career averages. It’s been behind the plate, however, that Navarro has provided a surprising jolt of value.

An underrated game caller, Navarro eventually began to work exclusively with Marco Estrada. The two produced much stronger numbers than Estrada was able to with Martin, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos has taken notice. In late September, he told the Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery that Navarro had been the team’s unsung hero this season.

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“It is important to have two (catchers) that can get the job done, especially with Dioner from an offensive standpoint — a left-handed bat, on such a right-handed hitting team. His game-calling is outstanding, and he’s been a great teammate as well.”

As one of Toronto’s more beloved clubhouse figures, the great shift towards cohesion and team chemistry will factor in to the Jays offseason interest in retaining Navarro. This may not have been the case two seasons ago. He’s also handled the running game very well and gives John Gibbons a switch-hit bat off the bench late in games. Frankly, you’d be greedy to ask for anything more from a backup catcher.

Toronto’s catching depth behind Navarro is relatively thin, with Josh Thole offering little optimism as the next man up. He obviously would not have received Navarro’s two playoff starts if he’d been this season’s backup, but where would Estrada, and this rotation, currently be without Dioner? First round pick Max Pentecost has battled injury after injury, so Toronto still needs to bridge a gap. Especially with an aging starter that has four very, very expensive years remaining on his contract.

The obstacle here is clearly Navarro’s market. He’ll be 32 next season, and finds himself in a grey area between being a starter and backup in the league. Navarro would surely prefer a situation with a starting opportunity, but there’s a reason Toronto struggled to find a trading partner this season. The league is seeing a wave of talented young catchers, so for a slight bump in pay from a traditional backup’s contract, Toronto may beat many of the alternatives.

Any pursuit of Navarro would not unfold on day one of free agency. Veterans in his career position often last well in to the winter, waiting for the trade and signing markets to develop and, hopefully, leave a job vacant. There are some factors here that Toronto cannot control here, but if they get any opening to bring back Navarro, he’d be a valuable addition that brings wholeness to the 2016 roster.

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