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Alex Avila is hitting, but White Sox catcher tandem still a bad fit

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Now it's Dioner Navarro who isn't carrying his share of the playing time

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The White Sox have a list of needs and a longer list of potential targets, and it's becoming more pressing as their record once again sits below .500.

If Alex Avila keeps doing what he’s doing, you can probably cross Jonathan Lucroy off the list.

Of course, doing that presumes that you could put Lucroy on the list in the first place. MLB Trade Rumors went through the list of teams that could feasibly have the need and assets to acquire the Milwaukee catcher, and it’s looking like a field of 10 teams or more. MLBTR didn’t include the White Sox in the inner circle due to a collection of prospects that doesn’t stand up to the others (especially if Tim Anderson is untouchable).

But since Avila returned from the DL, he's provided some hope for the viability of the position.

  • Through April 23: .214/.333/.250 over 33 PA
  • After the DL stint: .259/.359/.426 over 64 PA
  • Season: .244/.351/.366 over 97 PA

I wouldn’t make too much of the exact proportion of those numbers since it’s dividing one reasonable sample size into smaller ones. But if you watched Avila and thought he was hitting the ball with more authority, you would be correct:

Baseball Savant

He also tripled his season total of baserunner kills by going 2-for-2 against Kansas City on Sunday (not to mention a successful interference call, finally).

Lucroy would still be an incredible addition, but it was more vital before Austin Jackson's injury. Since the Sox lost their center fielder, they’ve been more reliant on Avisail Garcia’s defense and a mish-mash of below-average hitters at DH. Understanding the cost, the Sox should probably cross their fingers with Avila and look elsewhere for upgrades.

Star-divide

Avila’s revival should be great news, but as the 2016 White Sox are teaching us, you shouldn't assume you can enjoy anything.

Catcher is still a problem on the whole. While Avila is slide-whistle up, Dioner Navarro is slide-whistle down, losing all of his gains from the first half of May. His 0-for-14 June has his OPS back to .572, and the once-wet newspaper bat of Avila has tied him in homers, with Navarro’s quality of contact trending the other way.

As you might guess from his season totals, he's not supplementing Avila’s weaknesses, either. His batting average against lefties is below .200, and the only defensive improvement he provides is a slightly better kill rate (which is still below average at 23 percent).

The result is a tandem that’s efficient in its ability to frustrate, targeting the one thing that couldn’t be allowed to happen: Navarro hitting worse than Tyler Flowers.

I’d downplay Flowers' superior season line (237/.341/.351) because he still strikes out at an alarming rate without the power to compensate. I wouldn’t bet on that going forward or backward (I doubt he’d replicate that line with the Sox or another American League team).

But as long as Flowers is in Navarro’s neighborhood the plate — and right now he’s a couple floors above him --- it makes related developments easier to notice, like Chris Sale throwing 40 percent fewer changeups or Carlos Rodon struggling to maintain upper-echelon form. Perhaps these things happen even if the Sox didn't non-tender Flowers, but we had a long enough track record to know what he brought to the table, for all his glaring deficiencies. If Navarro doesn’t start hitting, he’s in the same boat as Jimmy Rollins, who didn't have much of a purpose once he proved that his ugly splits against righties weren't an aberration.

In Rollins’ defense, he came to the Sox on a minor-league contract in February, so he shouldn't have been expected to pan out. Catcher, conversely, was the first position Rick Hahn addressed in the winter. It doesn't bode well when the areas the White Sox prioritized end up in the same pile as the ones with which they tried to cut corners.