Awww, were you actually worried that the Jays didn’t see the complete and utter uselessness of J.P. Arencibia staring them in the face and swinging through pitch after bloody blockable-by-anyone-but-him pitch all summer?
Yeah… they noticed.
Sources: #BlueJays in agreement with free-agent catcher on Dioner Navarro on two-year deal, pending physical.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 2, 2013
“Dioner is served!” to quote Twitter’s @TheMattRoss.
Jon Heyman tweets the details, telling us that the commitment from the Jays just $8-million over two years– and if you think about it, with Arencibia projected at $2.8-million this year, and another year of full-time duty likely to push him to the $5-million range during his next trip through arbitration, the money is a wash.
So… that’ll do! And holy shit, the day is just getting started. After all, with
5 PM midnight ET being the deadline for clubs to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible and pre-arb players, among whom Arencibia is counted, it would seem a certainty that another shoe is yet to drop here. There would be no point in the club paying ol’ J.P.A. what he will likely earn next year, so he’s almost certain to be dealt somewhere before the deadline, unless the Jays find absolutely no takers, in which case he’ll likely be non-tendered and join the grim list of remaining free agent catchers.
Oh, and there are sure to be other delights, as our pal Drew Fairservice notes:
Excited for J.P. Arencibia to absolutely lambaste the organization on his way out of town. Scorched earth plz
— Drew Fairservice (@DrewGROF) December 2, 2013
Ahhh, good times. But OK, let’s move on, you say? We got our fill of J.P. bashing all effing summer, you say? Just what are the Jays getting in Navarro, you ask? Well…
Actually that grim free agent catching market is worse off for his departure. Especially if you want to believe Navarro is more the guy that the Cubs saw for 89 games last year, or even the one the Reds got a brief taste of for 24 in 2012, and not the sub-replacement level sludge he had turned into for the three seasons prior, following a solid 2008 in Tampa.
Ignoring the less-recent past on Navarro, and his many warts (not literal ones– y’know, I assume) is actually quite an eye-popping experience: the Jays just got a switch-hitting catcher whose 13.7% career strikeout rate will feel like a gift from the gods compared to the 29.8% of plate appearances Arencibia struck out in last year (no, really). Navarro put up a .300/.365/.492 slash line in 2013, which was good for a wOBA of .374, and a wRC+ of 136 in 266 plate appearances.
Here’s the complete list of Blue Jays hitters with a higher wRC+ this past season: Edwin Encarnacion.
Which isn’t at all to say that the Jays have just signed someone better than Jose Bautista, whose 134 wRC+ came about in a sample of more than double the plate appearances Navarro had. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot in his past to make anyone believe that what Navarro did last season was anything but a total outlier. And, if you dare look at his combined numbers for 2009 through 2011, they’re just as pitiful as what Arencibia did last year.
So let’s maybe not jump for joy here, but there still is a whole lot to like here– especially on a market where Carlos Ruiz cost an extra year and $18-million additional dollars.
This is how I talked myself into Navarro back when the off-season began:
How about, then, someone to pair with Josh Thole, who we know can catch Dickey and is also still under contract?
Pierzynski still technically works in that scenario, though it would mean always having his bat in the lineup against left-handers. On the other hand, Dioner Navarro has absolutely mashed left-handed pitching over the last three years, albeit in a small sample (.392 wOBA over 125 plate appearances), and has done well in the split in the minors over that time as well, and in his career as a big leaguer, though the bulk of those plate appearances are from 2009 and before.
Navarro is a switch hitter, too, so you wouldn’t necessarily be committing to Thole as the more active half of a lefty-righty platoon. However, in Navarro’s last 416 plate appearances against right-handed pitching his wOBA is just .305. His on-base is .311, though, which by the standard we’ve grown accustomed to around here is downright decent. The high OBP watermark for Arencibia in his three years is .282, and over that span against right-handers it’s a pitiful .257.
Holy shit, I think I actually just talked myself into Navarro– sad as it is to think that a .305 wOBA and .311 on-base against right-handers is, like, a vast improvement.
Of course, all of that, and everything I’ve addressed so far, is entirely about offence. Defensively isn’t exactly where our new catcher shines– not by reputation, and not by the numbers. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure he’s an upgrade on Arencibia, sadly– especially if we worry about pitch framing stats. If you look at the pitch framing numbers at Stat Corner, Arencibia was one of the ten best in the game (if you can believe it), while Navarro is ranked just barely in the bottom third (though on a per-game basis he’s closer to the middle, and his actual number is more average-ish than it is close to the guys way at the bottom of the spectrum– among them two other potential Jays targets, the aforementioned A.J. Pierzynski, as well as John Buck).
It’s not much better for him in terms of other defensive metrics. Navarro was generally ahead of Arencibia in those in 2013, but you also have to consider that Arencibia played more than twice the number of innings behind the plate. Matt Klaassen’s final Fogging The Measure composite catcher defence rankings for Getting Blanked place Navarro 89th and Arencibia 98th, however, Navarro is actually much closer to the middle of the pack than it seems. The difference between the two spots in terms of the total number of runs below average is four, but guys who are four off of Navarro’s total in the other direction rank around the top 30– in other words, the quality of the guys behind him drops precipitously, and Arencibia is somewhere a whole lot closer to the bottom of that canyon. But, again, with the kind of playing time that J.P.A. got, you’d have to figure Navarro would have ended up right there with him.
Navarro’s DRS last season was one, which is about where it has been for the past few– albeit in samples that don’t tell us a whole lot– while Arencibia’s was two, which again doesn’t suggest a massive difference given the playing time. Same story at Baseball Reference, where the defensive numbers are close (but in Arencibia’s favour), as they are according to the metrics used by FanGraphs’ WAR calculation as well– though in that one, at least, Navarro’s per-game numbers look a little better. And, by some accounts, pitchers do enjoy throwing to him.
Still, though, this obviously isn’t the catch-and-throw guy that so many fans had been pining for– not that I think that stuff was really all that well thought-out in the first place. But– here’s a thought– maybe they’re not even done with the position! Navarro’s platoon splits, as I noted above, have been pretty stunning against left-handed pitching, albeit in quite a small sample. They reflect a new reality for him, that could bode well for some kind of partnership with Adam Lind, however his much-more-compelling career numbers don’t make quite the same case– he’s got just a .339 wOBA against lefties in total.
Mike Wilner has certainly been questioning the worthiness of Navarro’s ability to be a full-time guy, while, Ben Nicholson-Smith tweets some comps on the deal, which definitely do look a liiiiiitle bit backup-y. Indeed, it would be a pretty large gamble to hand over the full-time job to someone based on a very good 266 PA sample, especially one whose games played totals (Majors and minors combined) over the last four years are 91, 69, 86, and 89.
On the other hand, I suspect (based, of course, on absolutely nothing) that’s wishful thinking and the Jays indeed are rolling the dice knowing they can’t do much worse here than their last insufferable roll. The catching market is what it is (read: rancid), and even if, at the very worst, it means a little more Josh Thole in our lives, whatever happens from here is going to be better than what we saw this season behind the plate. Maybe not by much– and maybe not better, even, than what a turned-around Arencibia might possibly do– but better. And if this is just a starting point, and the club can find a way to improve even more behind the plate, then Navarro is still a useful piece– he can be a willing backup, and at least has utility as Lind’s caddy, which are two things Arencibia can’t claim.
Regardless, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this year, in half the playing time, Navarro was worth 1.9 more wins than Arencibia by Baseball Reference, and 2.3 more by FanGraphs. Those are some tasty improvements– exactly the kind we’ve said all along that the Jays need– even if a lot is riding on a bat that’s never been good enough to sustain them. All things being equal– and, in terms of money, apparently they are– in the worst case scenario the Jays are better off today than they were yesterday. I think. But shit, even if they’re not, it’s only barely– and if Anthopoulos can actually move J.P. for something, maybe even more than that. And since keeping Arencibia was an untenable proposition anyway, what’s to dislike here, really? The fact that Navarro kind of sucks except when he’s having a ridiculous outlier season at the plate? Well, yeah. He’s a non-elite big league catcher. Of course he kind of sucks. I’ll still take the walks and contact, thanks. And the hope for not too much regression, as opposed to dreaming on some big magical dose of regression back to merely terrible that, this summer, simply never came.