Going into the offseason, the Angels had two major needs to address on the roster: starting pitching and bench depth. It was pretty evident during the ALDS that there was a lack of depth in both those areas. Letting a rookie start Game 2 of a playoff series and getting two-thirds of an inning from your Game 3 starter simply wasn’t going to cut it. And by no means is Gordon Beckham a viable pinch running option when your team is down a run and trying to get something going on the base paths. While we wait to see how the bench plays out, GM Jerry Dipoto has already improved the starting rotation by acquiring right-hander Nick Tropeano (along with catcher Carlos Perez) from the Houston Astros in exchange for Hank Conger. We might see a mid-level or veteran starter be picked up to help the back end of the rotation, but at the very least Tropeano provides the team with a solid option in case of injury.
While the trade addressed one factor of the team that was lacking, it opened up a new hole in the roster: backup catcher. Chris Iannetta is slated to make five million dollars this year before becoming a free agent next offseason and will handle the majority of the innings behind the dish. But besides him, the Angels have no other clear catching solutions. Hank Conger started 70 games in 2013 and his departure came as somewhat of a surprise, considering there was no definite successor to take his place.
It is now up to Jerry Dipoto to fill the void. An easy and simple fix would be to find a cheap, veteran backstop who can handle a young Angels pitching staff. Another option is to turn to the farm system, where Jett Bandy and newly acquired Carlos Perez appear to be the most major league ready options (You can read more about them here). However, both of those solutions are lackluster and not guaranteed to be successful. A third option is to turn to the trade market and Toronto catcher Dioner Navarro looks like a prime target to be moved.
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Navarro has reportedly gained interest around the league after the Blue Jays inked fellow catcher Russell Martin to a five-year deal. The Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos even hinted that a deal might be imminent and he would not be surprised if Navarro is traded this offseason.
So what’s so great about Navarro and how much would he cost the Halos?
Dioner Navarro has been in the major leagues since 2004 and played in a whopping 139 games last year for Toronto. A former all-star with Tampa Bay, the 5’9” backstop has posted solid numbers at the plate while providing decent defense behind the dish. Navarro has produced back-to-back years of ~2 WAR and is only one season removed from having a .856 OPS. He is a switch hitter at the plate, similar to Conger, but hits lefties best, similar to Iannetta. A benefit to acquiring Navarro would be his ability to DH against left-handers and provide the Angels with a decent right-handed bat off the bench. But where Navarro makes up value with his offense, he loses value with his defense and base running. Behind the plate, he threw out just 21% of runners last year and 26% the year before. According to Stat Corner, he was one of the worst pitch framers in 2014, but FanGraphs rates him as slightly above average at blocking pitches in the dirt, so there’s a tradeoff. As far as base running is concerned, FanGraphs has him listed as a far below average runner pretty much each year he has put on a uniform. But hey, he’s a heavyset catcher with short legs, what do you expect? Anyhow, Navarro would be an upgrade over any veteran signing or minor league option. I would have a hard time believing he hasn’t been discussed in the Angels’ front office yet.
When it comes to Navarro’s contract, he is owed five million dollars for the upcoming season before becoming a free agent in 2016, the same contract situation as Chris Iannetta. If my calculations are correct, only four million will count against the luxury tax, which puts the Angels close to, but not over, the $189 million limit. His salary is easily manageable, the real complications arise from the player that the Halos will need to fork over in the deal. The Blue Jays are in need of bullpen help and will likely ask for a solid reliever in return for their catcher. In my opinion, Kevin Jepsen and Cory Rasmus are the most likely to be moved, in that order. Jepsen had a career year in 2014, posting a 2.64 ERA while striking out 10.4 batters per 9 innings. Both numbers were career bests, along with his 2.78 FIP and impressive 1.05 WHIP. The righty can be controlled for two more seasons and is due to earn about $2.6 million this year in his third time through arbitration. Jepsen’s trade value has never been higher and his (quickly) rising salary may position him to be traded. Cory Rasmus had a stellar year last season as well, serving as a long man in the ‘pen and a spot starter towards the end of the season. Rasmus has always been hampered by his lack of control and high walk rates, but he made significant strides in 2014 as he surrendered just 2.7 BB/9. He posted a 2.57 ERA in 50+ innings and looks to be a prominent member of the bullpen next year, barring any trades or a conversion to the rotation. I think Jerry Dipoto will be a little more hesitant to deal Rasmus however, as he can be controlled through the 2020 season.
In conclusion, the Angels should look to deal a reliever for one year of a solid backstop. Navarro will provide much needed depth if Iannetta suffers an injury and can serve as a solid bat to pinch-hit late in games versus lefties. There is a shrinking window for the team to remain competitive in the AL West as Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and CJ Wilson continue to age and regress. As the Winter Meetings approach, acquiring Navarro should be high on Dipoto’s priority list in order to field a championship caliber team for 2015.