Just about every winter, the Chicago Cubs acquire one “true” first baseman on a Minor League deal to stash away at Triple-A Iowa in case of emergency.
According to Anthony Fenech of MLB Network, they may have just added their 2018 edition, in the form of Efren Navarro:
Navarro, 31, is a solid defensive first baseman and swings left-handed. He played 23 games with the Tigers last year.
— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech) January 28, 2018
Yes, Anthony Rizzo is still just 28 years old and has averaged 154.4 games per season over the last five seasons, but it’s always good to have a contingency plan available at Triple-A juuuuuuuust in case there’s a rash of serious injuries at the big league level, which includes Rizzo and the other guys who would logically fill in for him.
In all likelihood (I hope), you won’t hear much of Navarro this season, but in case the worst happens, we should know a bit about him.
In short, Navarro, 31, was originally drafted by the Angels in the 50th round of the 2007 draft (yes, there were 50 rounds back then, and Navarro was the 4th to last player selected – he has dramatically exceeded expectations), and he’s worked his way through a few different systems. His most recent work in the Majors came with Detroit in 2017, where he slashed .230/.319/.377 (82 wRC+) in limited duty.
Looking back through his minor league career, you’ll find that Navarro has never hit for much power, but as Fenech points out, is a lefty with quality defense at first base. Sometimes, in my opinion, the best interim replacements are glove-first stewards who may not have a super high ceiling, but do have a much higher, more familiar, safer floor. And indeed, a left-handed hitter with great defense at first base should be able to hold things down in a pinch – and his 11.6% walk rate from last season doesn’t hurt either.
So, again, hopefully you hear very little about Navarro as the 2018 season unfolds – even if Rizzo gets hurt, Navarro won’t be the first to replace him (I’m guessing some combination of Javy Baez, Ben Zobrist, and, if necessary, Victor Caratini would get the call) – but know that in case of emergency (i.e. multiple, coinciding injuries), the front office has put a back-up-back-up in place.