There was a time when Dioner Navarro was a catching prospect of the highest order (right up there, incidentally, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia). That was a long time ago, but Navarro has still carved out something of a big league career as a mostly-back-up catcher.
And now it looks like he’s going to be a mostly-back-up catcher for the 2013 Chicago Cubs.
His agents just announced on Twitter that the 28-year-old backstop has signed with the Cubs, on what I presume is either a big league deal for a small amount of money (terms have not yet been disclosed), or a minor league deal. Early guess/hope? The latter.
Navarro had his best year in a long time last year with the Reds, hitting .290/.306/.449, albeit in just 73 plate appearances. He spent most of his year at AAA, putting up a solid .832 OPS in the International League (not quite as hitter friendly as the PCL). In the years before 2012, however, he’d had a rough go of it in the bigs, with OPS+ marks of just 68, 49, and 54 in 2011, 2010, and 2009.
We’ll know more about the plan for Navarro when the terms of the deal are disclosed, but given his success last year and his switch-hitting bat, I wouldn’t be surprised if the plan is to pair him with Welington Castillo next year, with Castillo as the nominal starter (though it’s worth pointing out that Navarro, for his career, has been far better on the right side of the plate than the left). It’s similar to what I was thinking the Cubs could do with Saltalamacchia, about which I wrote just moments before this news came out.
If the Cubs somehow got Navarro on a minor league deal, we’ll have to see what the rest of the offseason holds. Steve Clevenger probably will be removed from the 40-man roster at this point, particularly if Navarro got a big league deal (and a 40-man spot). If he sticks in the organization, he’ll be at Spring Training, competing with, presumably, Navarro for the right to back up Castillo.
And, not to make today all about Matt Garza, but he and Navarro have a bit of a past.
UPDATE: Jon Heyman says it’s a deal worth $1.75 million, which suggests that it’s a big league deal (for about three times the minimum). That … surprises me. Navarro is certainly a capable big league back-up, but he’s probably light-hitting even for that class of player. He’s solid defensively, and it’s not a huge amount of money. Still, it’s a bit surprising. If it were a minor league/major league split deal, where, if he makes the big league team out of Spring Training, a $1.75 million salary might make more sense. But $1.75 million guaranteed up front to a guy who was some 40% below average offensively for three years before hitting decently in a whopping 73 plate appearances in 2012? That, again, is a surprise.