Saturday, December 5, 2009

Can the Rays Afford to keep Dioner Navarro?

Having two quality, young catchers should be a luxury, not a problem. However, for the Rays, who are working on a tight budget, having two young, arbitration eligible catchers is a problem, especially for Dioner Navarro. A decision is looming:
Whatever plans the Rays have for Dioner Navarro this summer remain unclear.

The team has until a week from today to tender an offer to Navarro, who is in his second year of arbitration eligibility, and executive vice president Andrew Friedman indicated this week he might need every hour until that deadline to make a decision.

With newly acquired Kelly Shoppach also arbitration eligible, the Rays could find themselves in a position of committing more than $5 million to their catchers.

The options are to either non-tender Navarro ($2.1 million in 2009) or Shoppach ($1.95 million last season), trade one of them, or go into 2010 with what Manager Joe Maddon sees as a pretty good duo behind the plate.

"I think it can be kind of a really great combination, actually," Maddon said. "Those are two pretty good catchers right there."
Both Shoppach and Navarro struggled pretty badly at the plate last season, but there are reasons to like both players. Shoppach absolutely crushes left handed pitching and hit 21 home runs in 2008; while Navarro was an all-star in 2008 and put up solid offensive numbers. At the same time, both guys have some serious question marks. Navarro and Shoppach struggled against right handed pitching, no one knows how Shoppach will handle being the starting catcher, and Navarro is a shaky defensive catcher, who pitchers are not fond of throwing too.

Because both guys are arbitration eligible, the Rays will likely have to pay between $4-$5 million to retain both in 2010. As Cork from Rays Index points out, the Rays already have $29.125 million committed to just three players (Pena, Burrell, Crawford). Assuming that their payroll remains around $63 million next season, that would give the Rays only $33 million to spend on the other 22 players on the roster. That number is further reduced when you take into account the $3.5 million owed to Dan Wheeler, the $2.5 owed to James Shields, and the $4.35 million total owed between David Price, Gabe Kapler, Wily Aybar, and Evan Longoria.

So basically, the Rays have around $23 million to spend on 16 players, several of whom are eligible for arbitration raises (BJ Upton, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Grant Balfour, JP Howell, and the Navarro/Shoppach catching combo.

Now ask yourself this, can the Rays afford to spend roughly 20% of the money they have available on two catchers, both of whom have question marks? It's hard to justify that. After examining the economics of the situation, it's hard to envision Navarro on the Rays next season. For the Rays' sake, hopefully they are able to trade Navarro so that they don't have to non-tender the soon to be 26 year old catcher and let him go for nothing.

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