The Chicago Cubs were atrocious this past year, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The lack of quality players, the constant shuffles in the lineup and the overabundance of right-handed hitters really hurt the chances of a team that was already depleted at the start of the season, and was even more hurt after the trade deadline.
Not every player, however, had a bad year with the bat.
Guys like Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney, two outfielders that were never given a chance to be full-time players, responded with solid years in terms of power (Schierholtz had 21 HRs, a career-best) or OBP skills, but no one had a greater impact than backup catcher Dioner Navarro.
The backstop was signed on a one-year, $1.75 million deal in the past offseason with the hope that he could catch a few games providing some solid hitting. Most importantly, however, was the fact that he was signed to mentor Welington Castillo, who is considered the long-term answer behind the plate.
But could anyone predict what Navarro did last year? The former Tampa Bay Rays catcher had a career year at the plate, finishing with 13 HRs and 34 RBIs in only 89 games and featuring a slash line of .300/365/492. Navarro also proved to be valuable as a defensive asset as he was able to control the opposition’s game effectively thanks to his incredible game-calling skills.
The ability to hit from both sides of the plate is also a huge asset, as the Cubs are currently heavy on right-handed hitters. The only threat from the left side is slugger Anthony Rizzo, and to add another lefty with pop could really prove to be a difference-maker if played correctly.
Castillo also benefited from the Venezuelan’s presence in the clubhouse. Castillo’s defense, hitting and game-calling skills all improved from last year and now he’s regarded as one of the premier backstops in the game. Most people in the Cubs organization believe that these improvements are due to Navarro’s presence, and some pitchers have even said they’d love to have him back for next year.
The only problem seems to be the cost. After having a great year in a relatively small sample size, but with the proven track record that allowed him to be an All-Star a few years ago, several teams could be looking at Navarro to be their starter. After all, not many catchers can provide the level of offense Navarro supplied last year.
The Cubs would commit a huge mistake if they don’t make a strong push to re-sign Navarro. The rebuilding is at a critical stage and they need to spend as a big-market team if they want to return to MLB contender status in the short term.