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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.

  • Jarrod Campbell

    Is Castillo even worthy of a starting job? He really didn’t impress me too much, but I’m no expert.

    • Myles

      In his first year of extended play, he hit .265/.337/.418 (106 OPS+). Defensively, he was bad at the beginning of the year and improved immensely as the season progressed. He takes walks and has a nice bat for a catcher, and will stick at the position. He’s a nice piece and unless he pulls a Soto he should be a dependable guy at catcher for years to come.

      He’s also not even into arbitration yet. We need more Castillos.

    • Matthew

      If this means the end of Clevenger as Castillo’s backup, move of the offseason. Go away, Clevenger.

  • Myles

    He almost certainly got a major-league deal. He could definitely get one somewhere, and even if he couldn’t, he’d have held out until longer than now to sign a minor league one.

    I like the move. He’s a switch-hitting backup catcher that probably costs a million bucks. He’s an upgrade over Clevenger albeit a minor one.

    And yeah, this means Clevenger is gone.

  • Carl

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this deal in 2003.

    • Myles

      Not a fan of the Damian Miller/Paul Bako timeshare?

      • Carl

        I’ll always have a soft spot for Gabor.

  • Jedi

    Seeing how the Braves would love to keep Bourne, but can’t afford him, any chance the Cubs take Uggla off their hands (they then sign Bourne) and we gave them Barney and a prospect like Underwood for Uggla and Minor? Curious about your thoughts, Brett.

  • Jim

    I like the deal. Dioner definitely knows Matt Garza from the Rays Days and maybe he becomes his main catcher. At least there will be some familiarity there and a veteran presence there backing up Welington. If the Cubs keep Clevenger then they will have someone in AAA ready to go in case needed.

    • auggie1955

      Good point about Navarro being familiar with Garza. I wonder if that had anything to do with the Cubs decision and if Garza had any input.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        See the link in the post about Navarro/Garza. Obviously it’s ancient history, but it’s something.

        • JR

          Maybe that’s why Garza had a bad night last night. He found out th Cubs signed this dude..

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    eh, back up catchers are just about meaningless.

    • hansman1982

      Unless they become a primary catcher for a specific pitcher or two.

    • Adventurecizin’ Justin

      What?!?! Could not disagree more!

  • Zogie

    In his short time in the bigs, Welington Castillo crushed lefties, but had a had time with righties. Navarro has been good against righties and he is not god awful against lefties like Clevenger. On the defensive side, Navarro is pretty average, but Clevenger again failed as a defensive catcher. I am really hoping for a minor league deal, but being this early in the offseason, it looks to be a ML deal, heck maybe even a split contract deal. Either way, Navarro is an upgrade over Clevenger.

  • Rizzo 44

    Uggla would be a nice addition at second. Barney gone wouldn’t hurt my feelings. Uggla behind Soriano in the lineup looks pretty good and hitting in Wrigley would be a lot better for him than at Turner Field. I bet he could add 5-10 more HRs and 10 Points give or take a few on his AVG. I think his stats could look like this 250/350/480/800OPS 32HR/95RBI/352B/85BB. We could also ask for another player in the package if we take on the salary to help the Braves. A SP would be nice.

    • TheRiot2

      Barney to the Braves for Randall Delgado works for me.Hahaha & Valbuena can move to 2nd.base while we sign another slug to compete for time at 3rd. base with Vitters and maybe even Stewart.

  • william

    just because they signed him dont meen they will not still try to get salty tho last year they had a couple catchers going into spring training so salty could still happen to

  • Kyle

    *insert generic veteran backup catcher who you hope can at least be replacement level here*

    • BD

      Damon Berryhill

    • WNebCub

      Hector Villanueva

    • Tobias

      Ron Hassey

  • http://www.backingthepack.com Rynomite

    30% career CS, which is slightly above average. Probably an upgrade over Clevenger but who knows how Clev might progress. Helps the depth situation for sure.

  • Rcleven

    Hope Dioner gives Castillo a run for his money in the spring. Have pretty much the same thoughts on Castillo as Myles (made improvements defensively) but still not convinced he is MLB ready.

  • http://www.backingthepack.com Rynomite

    Whoa…just saw it’s for 1.75 million. That’s surprising. Thought the going rate for light hitting backup catchers was more in the 900k and under range.

    • Bazfan1234

      Koyie Hill part 2?

  • http://www.backingthepack.com Rynomite

    Career OPS is 100 points higher v lhp than v rhp, which is unfortunate since Castillo also performs better v lhp. But at 1.75 one would think he is assured a gig rather than here to compete for a job v. Clevenger.

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor

    The sad thing about this whole thing is the short window Steve Clevenger had at the major league level. Ever since that oblique strain, he hasn’t been the same. I hope he stays with the franchise and takes extensive time and effort into becoming 100%.

    Don’t be fooled, Dioner Navarro is about a .200 hitting catcher, w/base-runners having a career 40% success rate against him. I can’t see this being a major-league signing, unless we re-sign, minor league free agent Juan Apodaca at AAA. If we do not, then, I think there can be talk of a Saltalamacchia trade.

    I would love to have Salty split time with Castillo. Dude crushes right-handed pitching and Castillo crushes left-handed pitching. Seems like a perfect platoon.

    • Rcleven

      Apodaca signed with the Rangers.

      • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor

        Well, then. That answered that. Navarro’s on the ML roster and Clevenger will get full time catcher duties in Iowa. Iowa will need a backup now.

  • Master Dan

    I’ll take this guy over Koyie Hill anyday. 1.75 M isn’t much at all considering the kind of money the Cubs have.

  • Matt Garza

    Wow, sometimes I wonder why they even ask me about my experience. Just destroyed a good day. #freedom

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Well, that answers that.

      • TonyP

        lol

    • Cubbie Blues

      +1

  • Kyle

    It’s not like we were going to spend up to our budget anyway, but that’s a lot of money for a guy who’s been sup-replacement in total the last three seasons.

    • Cubbie Blues

      Insert padding the roster salary here.

  • JR

    Navarro is absolute trade bait at the deadline to a contendor. He has to know right? But I am sure the extra coin made it worth it to him..

  • kranzman54

    I assume this is a 1 year deal correct? Boy I was gonna say is Wellington a lock to start over him? Then I pulled up Navarro’s stats #underwhelming

  • Trade Bait

    I remember when I use to play Madden 10 yrs ago in college. We would sign free agents combine them together and trade them for draft picks and real studs. Kind of funny, that’s the goal here in real life here. I am cool with it, but it makes me laugh..

  • Fastball

    I would say Navarro is now the back up catcher. Clevenger will be at AAA and if he evolves at AAA we have options. He is not going to throw out runners at strong rate. He doesn’t have a cannon. He still has a lot of work to be a decent ML catcher. This is a solid signing. I doubt the Cubs go sign Saltalamochia or trade for him. He would want to be a starter and that wouldn’t be his role. I think his ship has sailed. We need to let Castillo continue improving on the job as we don’t really know is his ceiling defensively or offensively.

    • Marcel91

      We do know Castillo’s ceiling. Scouts and Cubs management feel he has all the tools to be an above average Catcher defensively with a cannon arm and hit about .260-.280 with 15-20 homer potential. Those numbers alone, for a catcher, are all-star quality. Whether he reaches that ceiling is up for debate but he certainly has the skills to do it. We will just have to wait and see. He’s a sleeper breakout candidate this year. He’s more skilled than Soto, who put up a few really good seasons, so I expect him to do well.

  • Fastball

    I am not going to waste my time learning how to spell Saltalammachia.

    • kranzman54

      I would have if he was a Cubby!

  • The Dude Abides

    Since the FO signed him I am sure the position was thoroughly vetted and a decision was made he would bring us the most bang for our money and make a practical addition to our 40 man roster and not interfere with our long term goals both from a financial and personnel perspective. Welcome aboard for what may be an historical season. In Theo we trust.

  • Beer Baron

    I really hope its a minor league deal – at least that he is not currenltly on the 40 man roster. With that Novermber 20th deadline to finalize for the Rule 5 draft just around the corner, its kind of not good adding another mediocre piece to that messy puzzle. If it is a major league deal then we have to release another guy we may want to hang onto (albeit a guy that probably isn’t very good like Casey Coleman or Tony Campana) or risk losing a prospect that we probably would prefer to keep .

  • Kubphan82

    Wasn’t Clevenger looking good before his injury? And he’s had a pretty good MiLB career…I didn’t think we’d DFA him… Wouldn’t he get picked up by somebody?

    We’re having a catching conundrum right now! We signed Boscan earlier for AAA depth. I have a feeling we’ll be trading a catcher soon… Castillo. And Clev/Navarro will be the Cubs MLB duo…

    Castillo might be able to add to the Cubs side in a trade with Marmol or Soriano. It’s not like Castillo is untouchable, tho I would give him a chance.

    • kranzman54

      I don’t know man. Clevenger is a known fastball guy and (maybe reminiscent of LaHair or early years Fukudome) he batted hot early with .500/.519/.71 at the end of May. However, by the end of the year he dropped to a .201/.260/.276. Granted this was after his injury, but that is a HUGE drop off. I wonder if guys just stopped throwing him FBs.

    • Marcel91

      EW. If Clev and Navarro we’re our catchers that would be terrible. Clevenger was playing out of his mind the first month and came back to earth later. If you look closely Koyie Hill actually has better numbers. Why would you trade Castillo? 25yr old who’s improving defensively, cannon arm, potential for 20+hrs and you want to keep…Clevenger? You don’t find catchers like that on trees so when you potentially have found one you keep him…… unless your the Blue Jays and have catchers out the wazoo.

      • Kubphan82

        I just didn’t want to rule out that Castillo could still be traded… I would prefer Castillo.

  • Marcel91

    Castillo – starter
    Navarro – backup/Castillo’s mentor
    Clevenger – AAA or gone

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor

    I believe Clevenger has options left. He can be DFA’d without being picked up.

    • AB

      I think you mean he can be optioned without going through waviers. If he is outrighted he has to pass through waivers.

      Since he has options, he likely won’t be DFA’d.

      • Mick

        In Clevenger’s case, he’ll probably be waived off of the 40-man roster giving every team a chance to claim him. If no team claims him, then he can be re-assigned to Iowa. He was already borderline to be removed from the 40-man but especially now that the Cubs found his upgrade.

  • MikeCubs

    Agree with many of the comments on here. Odd signing in light of our rule 5 decisions and his platoon split numbers against righties.

    Salty has so much more upside. I hate to say it, but I’d prefer Soto to Navarro and even Clevenger has more upside.

    The thought of this deal being a precursor to trading away Castillo, who I think is the real deal, as simply a sweetener, makes me ill.

    Navarro’s also a puzzling choice for a flip candidate, because I would think that, even if he excels as a backup, his trade deadline value would net us a prospect worse than some of our at risk rule 5 guys (1 of whom we will likely lose due to placing Navarro on the 40 man). In other words, I question the opportunity cost of a 40 man roster spot on a back up catcher with low upside in a “rebuilding” year

    My only hope is that Theo & co. saw something in Navarro’s plate approach this season that projects him to be closer to 2012 than pre-2012.

  • Tommy

    I’m excited about this move…

    4 years ago.

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