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Dioner Navarro's terrible year could be costly

With his service time at nine years, Navarro is a just a year away from securing 10 years in the majors, a pension increase, and a chance at $20 million in earnings. However, with this poor of a season, why would any MLB team give him another opportunity?

Any way you look at it, Dioner Navarro has been one of the league's worst catchers in 2016.
Any way you look at it, Dioner Navarro has been one of the league's worst catchers in 2016.
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The signing of Dioner Navarro was questionable from the onset and has continued to look worse with each passing week. Brought in to help improve the offense, Navarro is not only one of the worst defensive catchers in the game, but he is also one of the worst at hitting. With more than 200 plate appearances, only Yan Gomes (31), A.J. Pierzynski (37), and James McCann (53) have a worse RC+ than Navarro (57). His slash line is .205/.262/.333 and Navarro is on pace to hit seven home runs in 2016.

Tyler Flowers in 2015: .239/.295/.356 with 9 home runs. Not a high bar to clear but in every facet of the position, Navarro has fallen very short.

Another glaring concern is Navarro's exit velocity. Even when Navarro does make contact, it is often weak. Using Baseball Savant, the graph below compares Navarro's average exit velocity to the league average (88.6 to 89.3 mph).

Dioner Navarro weekly exit velocity Baseball Savant

On all balls in play, Navarro is averaging just 86.96 mph for an exit velocity and the hardest ball he hit was a 98.25 mph ground out back on June 18th. Using the Statcast breakdown, balls hit at 87 mph average have a batting average of .238, 20% of being a single, 4% chance of being a double, and no chance to be a triple or home run. That explains the lack of extra base hits.

This decline in exit velocity should be quite concerning for Navarro's camp. Forget about the Chicago White Sox needs for a moment because this season is destined for another below .500 record (ZiPS Projection: 78 wins). For a catcher who has demonstrated that his greatest strength is hitting, it would be almost impossible for any team after this season to offer Navarro a major league contract. He has proven in the past to bounce back from rough years. He was an all-star in 2008 hitting .295/.340/.407 for the Tampa Rays. Then he dropped off a cliff in 2009 hitting .218/.261/.322, which proceeded to get worse in 2010 (.528 OPS) and remained under the Mendoza line in 2011 (.193 AVG).

It's kinda surprising that Navarro has stayed in the league this long. He had a good showing with the Cincinnati Reds in 2012 hitting .290/.306/.449, but that was just 24 games worth. Somehow, he was able to leverage that performance in a new deal with the Chicago Cubs where he had his best offensive season in his career: 13 home runs with a slash line of  .300/.365/.492. That career year leveraged into a two-year deal with Toronto. He was decent in 2014, but the Blue Jays decided they could make an upgrade and signed Russell Martin.

So the fact that Navarro has lasted this long in the league after a terrible stretch from 2009-2011 is incredible. Seven major league teams have signed him in hopes of Navarro providing an offensive boost at a position that doesn't often produce offensively. Sometimes it has worked, and as this season, at times it has been horrid.

This upcoming free agency is incredibly important for Navarro to get a major league deal. He is just a year away from accruing ten years of service which comes with some sweet benefit: A substantial increase in his pension. Players who have more than 43 days of service receive a $34,000 a year pension, but for those that reach ten years can receive up to $185,000 annually.

For someone who has made $16 million dollars in his career, worrying about retirement might be the last thing on Navarro's mind. The pension doesn't kick in til he is the age of 62, but the MLBPA has a joint-survivor plan that would allow Navarro to pass his pension benefits to his spouse, Sherley. Just getting one more major league contract could perhaps mean career earnings of $20 million dollars and a six-figure income when Navarro is a senior citizen. That boost in his pension plan would help take care of his family for the rest of his life.

Maybe Navarro can sucker another team to give him an opportunity to play in the majors in 2017. That might be difficult as better options will be available: Matt Wieters, Wilson Ramos, Geovany Soto, and Jason Castro lead the class of catchers. Shoot, the White Sox will be in the market to sign any of those four to replace Navarro next season.

There is never a right time for a ballplayer to have a bad year, but for someone who was on a one-year deal and just a season away from making it to 10 service years, this was poor timing for Navarro to face plant. Not just for the White Sox who were trying to outsmart everyone in baseball by exchanging pitch framing for game calling and offense, but also for Navarro's piggy bank.