Mediocre catchers play forever. If you can squat behind the plate and block a few balls in the dirt and not totally embarrass yourself with your arm, somebody in Major League Baseball will employ you. Hitting is optional. Thus, catchers will bounce from organization to organization and play over a dozen seasons and like cats, live out nine lives as a baseball player. Dioner Navarro will play for his sixth organization (the Cubs) in 2013. He is only 28 years old. Navarro just might beat that nine lives limitation.
Navarro has already been in pro baseball for twelve seasons. He was signed by the Yankees out of Venezuela as a seventeen year old kid in 2000. He rode the buses in the Yankees' minor league system for five seasons before getting a cup of coffee with the big club in 2004. Perhaps that was to get Arizona and Los Angeles scouts to see him.
Following the 2004 season, he was traded along with Javier Vazquez and Brad Halsey to the Diamondbacks for the 41 year old Randy Johnson. That same day on January 11, 2005, he was packaged along with four other nondescript players to the Dodgers for Shawn Green. He was 21 years old.
He got into fifty games for the Dodgers in 2005 and hit pretty well and despite not throwing many runners out (21 percent on base steal attempts), fielded his position fairly well. His .729 OPS in 199 plate appearances for the Dodgers wasn't bad for being so young. He started pretty well for the Dodgers in 2006 when he became part of a trade on June 27 to the Rays along with two other players.
The Rays quickly installed the 22 year old catcher as their number one for the rest of the 2006 season and he would remain that team's number one catcher for three and a half years. His first full season and a half with the Rays was also the new era begun in the front office and run on the field by Maddon. And Navarro's struggles at the plate in 2006 and 2007 would mirror the team's struggles.
But it was clear that something was building and in 2008, the Rays busted on the scene and went all the way to the World Series. Navarro also became an All Star catcher that season. His .295 batting average and .757 OPS was the best of his career. That season earned him 1.7 of his career 1.8 rWAR. It also got him a pretty penny.
The following season, he was rewarded with a $2.1 million salary after earning $412,000 the season before. Whether it was the sudden riches combined with his young age or what, things in St. Pete went downhill from there. His OPS in 410 plate appearances plummeted to .583 good for only a 54 OPS+.
Still making his $2.1 million in 2010, he started even worse and lost his job to John Jaso. He would eventually even lose his backup job to Kelly Shoppach. When the Rays made the post season in 2010 and were set to meet the Rangers in what would become an epic five game ALDS, Navarro was left off the post season roster. The highest paid catcher on the team did not take the news well and deserted the team. It was a big story at the time. His career with the team was over.
He was a free agent after the season and the Dodgers picked him up for an even million dollars. It did not go well. Navarro got into 64 games with the Dodgers and by the time August had rolled around, he was batting .194 and the team released him. Was that the end of Dioner Navarro?
Heck no, he is a catcher. After the 2011 season, the Reds signed him as a free agent and started him at their Triple-A team at Louisville. He played really well there in 62 games and the Reds called him up on August 4, 2012. He would get into twenty-four games for the Reds and he hit .290 and compiled a .755 OPS in 73 plate appearances. This time he would make the post season roster for the Reds and he got into two games of the NLDS and went one for four with a walk. The Reds lost the series to the Giants.
Dioner Navarro became a free agent again and based on the fact that his limited appearances were successful and because he was a catcher and only 28 years old, the rebuilding Cubs have scooped him up. The price was very near what he was making with the Rays and at $1.75 million seems like a risk for the Cubs.
But who knows? Perhaps Navarro has found his career again. Perhaps the Cubs have little to lose. After all, their catchers combined for a .612 OPS in 2012. Navarro should be able to beat that pathetic allotment. And perhaps the Cubs heard good things about where Navarro is in his head these days. Time will tell.
But the point of all this is, is that it does not matter how far a catcher falls in baseball. There is always an opportunity waiting. Perhaps even more than left-handed relievers, catchers will always have a job waiting for them somewhere. Navarro has only had one good full season and a couple of decent partial seasons. But he is a catcher. And with any luck, Navarro can do this for another ten years and perhaps six or seven more lives.