The 2015 season didn’t go as expected for Toronto Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro. After appearing in 139 games as the primary starter in 2014, Navarro was caught as off guard as the rest of us by the Russell Martin signing, relegating him into a reserve role. The Blue Jays were unable to find a trading partner for Navarro and his $5 million salary, limiting him to just 54 regular season games.
This wasn’t a bad thing for the Blue Jays, as Navarro’s presence gave Toronto one of the league’s strongest catching tandems. John Gibbons was not forced to accept a black hole in the lineup by starting an offensively-challenged backup behind Martin, and in his limited time, Navarro exceeded expectations defensively and against the run.
It’s been a fascinating career journey for Navarro, who began as a top prospect in the New York Yankees system. He was a centrepiece of the 2005 Randy Johnson deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and while he’s never hit his ceiling potential, Navarro has managed to carve out a respectable career for himself. Off the field, he’s one of the true ‘good guys’ in the game.
The inconsistent usage didn’t serve Navarro well at the dish, but he was able to keep his bat operating at a passable level. The switch-hitter posted a slash line of .246 / .307 / .374, which rests very close to his career averages. Those numbers don’t rival his breakout 2013 in Chicago or even his 2014 season with Toronto, but given his sporadic playing time, they’re impressive.
Navarro also had a career year against the running game, tying a personal best mark with a 39% success rate against would-be base stealers. Paired with Russell Martin and a pitching staff that excelled with holding runners, the Blue Jays were extremely strong in that area.
He also got some long-overdue recognition for being a great game caller and manager of pitchers. He and Mark Buehrle continued to work well together, as they had in 2014, but his work with Marco Estrada was especially unique. The two became exclusive to one another by season’s end, and Estrada expressed a full trust level in Navarro to mix his pitches. That won’t show up as easily on the stat sheet, but Navarro deserves a great deal of credit.
Navarro will always have his built-in limitations, like clogging up the bases, but an issue more specific to 2015 was his inability to work with R.A. Dickey. This forced Martin to take more bullets than the Blue Jays would have liked. Kyle Matte has a great article on this effect over at Capital Jays, and if Navarro had of been able to spell of Martin for some of those starts, it may have saved the big fish signing from some nagging injuries and padded his offensive numbers.
I’ve banged the drum for the Blue Jays to reel Navarro back in, but as more time passes, I’m coming to terms with how unlikely that might be. Especially when we consider the growing salary of Russell Martin, it won’t be a surprise if Josh Thole opens 2016 as the primary backup to keep him protected. Even in the situation that Navarro’s salary dips below the $4 million average of his two-year Jays deal, it wouldn’t be an immediate priority given the many pitching needs that must first be addressed. If one of those pitching needs are filled by Marco Estrada, though…