Fresh start for all as Navarro replaces Arencibia
Blue Jays like acquisition's game-calling ability; trade didn't materialize for J.P.
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays had an obvious need for some help behind the plate, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos believes he has found the solution in veteran catcher Dioner Navarro.
Navarro certainly comes with a lot of question marks, but this business has always been about risk management. If there had been more certainty, Navarro likely would have priced himself out of the Blue Jays' market, but instead he arrives in Toronto on a two-year contract worth $8 million.
That's still a lot of money for a player who hasn't earned full-time duties since 2009, but the Blue Jays liked what they saw from the former Cubs backstop over the past calendar year and decided to take a chance with the hope that he will provide a clear upgrade over the departing J.P. Arencibia.
"We looked at the trade market and the free-agent market to see if there were any fits for us," Anthopoulos told reporters during a conference call Tuesday morning. "Navarro wasn't in an everyday role last year and hasn't been in an everyday role in the past [few years], but he's someone that has a pretty good contact rate, low strikeouts, pretty good on-base skills, can take a walk and work the count.
"From a game-calling standpoint, the work that we did on him, I think everyone really raved about his game calling and how guys loved throwing to him. When we looked at the lineup that we had, ways to improve the team, we felt like he was a better fit for us right now."
Navarro's contract is worth essentially the same amount of money that Arencibia would have earned over the next two years in salary arbitration. The upside is that Navarro is coming off a season during which he posted an impressive .300 average, .365 on-base percentage and .856 OPS while recording 13 homers and 34 RBIs.
Those numbers came in just 89 games, and whether this deal works out ultimately depends on if Navarro can put up at least somewhat similar numbers over the course of a full season. The 29-year-old is viewed as an offense-first type of a catcher, and if the bat regresses, then it's a move that ultimately won't work out. But the organization scouted him last season and appears confident the numbers will be consistent.
In some ways, there are similar concerns for Navarro as there were for Arencibia. Navarro's defense has come into question at times as the 10-year veteran is average at throwing out runners and blocking balls in the dirt. His strength appears to be in game calling, and he was known to be a favorite of Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija in Chicago.
One of the deciding factors was the amount of times Toronto has given opportunities to veteran catchers over the past decade that, in the end, proved beneficial for both sides.
"I think Dioner, with his age and the fact that he has already done it three times in the past and that we've had some success with it -- whether it was Gregg Zaun, John Buck, Rod Barajas, those types of guys who came in here and were given an opportunity to play every day and really took the ball and ran with it -- that certainly factored in," Anthopoulos said.
"He hadn't done it [recently], and that's part of the risk, but with all of the work that we did, we feel like he's certainly capable of that."
There had been very little doubt over the past several weeks that the Blue Jays were on the verge of cutting all ties with Arencibia. That officially happened late Monday night, when the club decided to non-tender the native of Miami and allowed him to become a free agent.
The writing was on the wall Sunday night, when Anthopoulos made a phone call to his former catcher. Toronto was still pursuing other options with the hope that a trade would eventually present itself, but the market never developed as every team took a pass on the $2.7 million Arencibia was projected to earn in arbitration.
That put Anthopoulos in the rather difficult position of having to decide whether to cut ties now or wait until later in the offseason, with the hope that a need from another organization would ultimately surface. Arencibia's deal wouldn't have been fully guaranteed, but with no room for him on the roster, Anthopoulos decided to try and do the right thing for a player who once was viewed as a potential cornerstone with the Blue Jays.
"At some point, when you really don't think it's possible to make a trade, you try and do what's best for the player and for his career," Anthopoulos said.
"If we really felt there wasn't going to be a trade out there for him, to sit there and carry him into Spring Training, on a non-guaranteed deal, potentially having to release him or option him, it just wouldn't make sense for him or for us. We were pretty motivated, if we could get something done by last night, we were going to do it, and if not, probably the best way for all parties involved was to make the decision."
The one thing Toronto never put much thought into was using Arencibia in a backup role. His salary would have been too expensive, and more importantly, there seems to be some uncertainty of just how accepting Arencibia would have been to that type of move.
Anthopoulos went out of his way to praise Arencibia's commitment to the team and his work in the community during a conference call with reporters, but over the past couple of years, there have been some red flags. Arencibia bristled at criticism from the media and words of advice from coaches over the past year as he remained steadfast in a belief that he knew how to turn his career around.
There were times when Arencibia privately complained about being lifted for a pinch-hitter, and he never seemed to change his approach at the plate despite public statements to the contrary. To his credit, Arencibia never wanted to come out of the lineup, but it's that same hard-nosed approach that would have resulted in some uneasiness with a backup role.
In the end, the cons outweighed the pros, and the Blue Jays decided a fresh start was best for all involved. The club will move forward with Navarro as the starter, and once that signing became official, there was little incentive to keep Arencibia in the fold.
"I don't think that was going to work," Anthopoulos said of using Arencibia as a backup option. "Especially with Josh [Thole] having caught R.A. Dickey, and from J.P.'s standpoint with where the money was going to end up in salary arbitration and things like that, it just didn't make a whole lot of sense for us to go down that path."