Dioner Navarro is a Blue Jay again, which could make for an intriguing bit of roster shuffling come Monday.
That’s the day Navarro is expected to join the Blue Jays after they acquired the popular backup catcher from the White Sox in a Friday trade for a minor-league pitcher.
The Jays will need to drop someone from the big-league roster to make room for Navarro. It could well be Josh Thole, the current backup catcher. And if that happens, it’s also possible that Thole is back with the team within a day or two, in plenty of time to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s next start.
General manager Ross Atkins said Navarro needs a couple of days to relocate from his home in Chicago. Thole will catch Dickey on Sunday. Since Thole is out of options, the Jays could release him after that game, then sign him to a new contract on Sept. 1 when rosters expand, retaining him as Dickey’s personal catcher for September.
Even though Navarro is having a poor season at the plate (.210/.257/.369), his return generated a warm response from fans on social media. Navarro is happy too, Atkins said.
“He was excited,” the GM said. “I could see the smile through the phone.”
Navarro, 32, was Toronto’s regular catcher in 2014, when he played in a career-high 139 games and enjoyed the best season of his 13-year career. Last year, the arrival of Russell Martin relegated him to a backup role, but he remained a favourite in the clubhouse and particularly with the pitchers, who appreciated his studious approach to the game.
“He’s someone that studies pitchers, studies the way he’s attacked (and) others are attacked, and has always (made) contributions that way,” Atkins said.
To put it politely, Navarro’s potential impact on the field is questionable, but he will certainly receive a hero’s welcome in the clubhouse.
“He’s a great human being, a great teammate. We’re all very excited,” said Marco Estrada, who enjoyed pitching to Navarro during their time as teammates last year.
“I’m excited,” said manager John Gibbons. “Dino, he’s always been one of my favourites. I had him a couple years here. Teammates love him. I’m sure he’ll be excited to come back. He really enjoyed it here.”
Navarro certainly will not steal playing time from Martin, one of the game’s best catchers. But Atkins said the Jays value Navarro as a switch-hitting depth piece whose return to a contending team might give him a personal boost.
The coaching staff is delighted to have him back, too.
“When we made the (coaching) staff aware that he would be joining us, they were extremely excited about not just what he means as a catcher, but just an overall teammate,” Atkins said.
Even as a reserve player, Navarro certainly was valuable to the Jays during their run to the playoffs last year, slashing .279/.338/.412 in 20 games over the final two months of the season.
But he had made it clear in spring training of 2015 that he was disappointed to lose his job to Martin and had asked the Jays to trade him to a club that would give him regular duty. It was never clear how hard they tried to accommodate him, but it was apparent that they wanted to keep him around. And after making his feelings known in one spring-training scrum, Navarro accepted his role and never complained publicly again.
He drew particular praise from Marco Estrada, whom he caught regularly. Atkins would not bite when asked if Navarro might team up again with Estrada, who has been hit hard in two consecutive starts.
But when Navarro became a free agent after the season, he accepted an offer from the White Sox because he thought he’d be the regular catcher. It hasn’t worked out that way. And after a hot start, the White Sox have sagged in the standings.
So a return to the Blue Jays is just about as good as it can get for Navarro. He knows most of the pitching staff and the rest of his teammates, and he remembers well the champagne and cigars in those clubhouse celebrations as the season wound down.
Atkins claimed the Jays did not set out to acquire a catcher, even though it makes eminent sense, especially with rosters expanding next Thursday.
“It’s just about depth, and adding another resource, and someone that we feel is a winning player to the team,” Atkins said.
The Jays entered Friday’s action with a short bench and six days to go before they can call up minor-league reinforcements at will.
Devon Travis is expected to return to action Saturday after a sore knuckle forced him to miss four games; Michael Saunders sat out his second straight game with a sore hamstring; and Kevin Pillar was a late scratch with “flu-like symptoms,” the club announced.
Asked if he knows how many minor-leaguers the Jays expect to call up when rosters expand, Atkins replied: “We definitely have an idea. I think the way we’re going to frame it is, guys that can make contributions, guys that are going to play, not necessarily in the most significant way because we want to build depth too, but we don’t want to add guys that we don’t think will have a chance to make an impact. So beyond 10 seems unreasonable, and it’s probably going to be lower than that.”
The minor-leaguer traded to the White Sox was left-hander Colton Turner, who logged a 1.33 ERA as a reliever at three levels this season. He recently was called up to Double-A New Hampshire.
A year ago, when Thole had options left, the Jays sent him to rookie-level Bluefield for a couple of days so they could call up Drew Hutchison to make a spot start on Aug. 29. They brought him back to catch Dickey’s five starts in September.