Mensching: Navarro makes sense at catcher, but not DH

Kurt Mensching
The Detroit News

It might make sense for the Tigers to trade for the Blue Jays' Dioner Navarro, just not for the reason that first comes to mind: Victor Martinez's injury.

A rumor out of Toronto Sportsnet on Monday suggested the Tigers were in discussions with the Blue Jays to acquire the 31-year-old switch-hitting catcher in exchange for pitching help.

Blue Jays radio play-by-play announcer Mike Wilner reported later in the day those discussions never happened, so rumor reader beware.

But it's enough to get a person thinking. Why would the Tigers be looking at Navarro, who comes at a $5-million price tag on top of whatever players it would take to acquire him in a trade?

The easy answer is to say because Martinez suffered a knee injury and the team needs to find someone to serve as a designated hitter.

That answer doesn't work for two reasons, really.

Unless Martinez is out for any lengthy period of the regular season, there's absolutely no reason for the Tigers to consider acquiring a player to fill his spot on the roster ahead of spring training. Martinez's return has been pegged at anywhere from about four to 12 weeks, which suggests even the worst-case scenario for recovery would have him back in the lineup around the beginning of May.

You're probably not going to acquire a designated hitter to help you fill a few weeks of playing time. And you're probably not going to acquire a catcher if you're looking for a designated hitter. Catcher is not exactly a position known for batting success.

Navarro batted .274 with a .317 on-base percentage and .395 slugging average last season. He's a .255/.313/.375 player for his career. Does that scream designated hitter to you? It doesn't to me. It says "fine for a catcher" though.

So, still assuming here the Tigers are interested, why would they go after a player like Navarro?

Because their own catching situation is just asking for trouble and they need a little bit of veteran insurance to help shore it up.

Alex Avila and the doctors can tell you how good he feels as much as they want. But what we've seen over the past few seasons is a player who has worn down quite a bit, with his effectiveness at the plate going down with the wear and tear of the position.

We've seen a catcher who battled concussion symptoms that sent him to the seven-day disabled list in 2013 and limited his playing time severely last September. Although he may be changing to a hockey-style mask this year, there's no guarantee against injury. Remember that he actually hurt himself while diving back to first base last season.

That leaves the Tigers with an unknown in prospect James McCann, and a thus-far unimpressive backup in Bryan Holaday.

McCann shouldn't be judged by the few games he entered into with Detroit last fall, but it's also hard to get a read on the kind of player he might be at the major league level. He batted a relatively impressive .295 with .343 on-base percentage, and .427 slugging for Triple-A Toledo last season, but he is otherwise a career .261/.310/.368 batter in four minor league seasons.

Holaday gets on-base at a career .280 clip and slugs just .303, which is to say he neither talks much nor hits for average or power. Should anything happen to Avila, could a team expected to contend, like the Tigers, feel comfortable handing catching duties over to that pair? No matter what they say inside or outside of their offices, the answer should pretty clearly be "no."

Navarro should be seen as an insurance policy — something the Tigers may not feel like they need. But he should be seen as one for the catcher position rather than at DH. For the Tigers, that's at least an insurance policy that makes good sense.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.