Catcher Dioner Navarro, who was primarily used as a back-up on the Chicago Cubs last year, will join the Blue Jays this season with eyes on the starting job. Navarro signed a to a two-year, $8-million US deal with Toronto. Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Alex Anthopoulos was prepared to stay the course with catcher J.P Arencibia, until he discovered the Toronto Blue Jays could make an upgrade behind the plate with free agent Dioner Navarro.
The Jays officially parted way with Arencibia on Monday by declining to tender a contract offer to the fourth-year catcher. The move came after Anthopoulos signed Navarro to a two-year, US$8-million deal.
"Dioner had a wonderful year last year in 240 at bats, and we think that there's some upside there, especially considering his age," the Blue Jays' GM said on a conference call Tuesday. "We just think it's a nice fit, and obviously we'll find out."
Arencibia struggled through the worst season of career in 2013, with a .194 batting average, 21 home runs and 55 RBIs. The 27-year-old fan favourite, who began his Blue Jays career with so much promise — homering on his first major-league pitch in 2010 — struck out 148 times this past season, 15th most in Major League Baseball.
Anthopoulos said he has no idea why Arencibia regressed so much last season.
"I wish I did. I do think he's going to bounce back," Anthopoulos said. "He was a little banged up, and one thing about J.P., he's a very durable guy, very tough, plays through a lot of injuries. There was a time we almost put him on the [disabled list], he wanted to keep playing, he battled through it and grinded through it, and I've seen him play with a broken hand and things like that.
"But I really don't know, certainly we didn't expect him to have that type of year. …Obviously he's very proud and has extreme pride in his job, and I think it may have just worn on him."
Still, Anthopoulos said the decision to replace Arencibia wasn't made until the "last few weeks or so."
The 29-year-old Navarro, a 10-year veteran from Venezuela, has served mostly as a backup but was an all-star with Tampa Bay in 2008. He hit .300 with a career-high 13 home runs in 89 games for the Chicago Cubs last season. He also had 34 runs batted in.
"Navarro was someone who has pretty good contact rate, low strikeouts, pretty good on base skills, been able to take a walk and work the count," Anthopoulos said. "From a game-calling standpoint, the work that we did on him, everyone really raved about his game-calling, and how guys love throwing to him."
Anthopoulos said Navarro — who's played for the New York Yankees, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and the Chicago Cubs — is keen to get return to a starting role in the majors.
"The fact that Dioner has played over a hundred games three times in his career, has been an all-star and is only 29, that certainly factored into the decision," he said. "Dioner is very motivated and very hungry to get back to being that everyday guy, he just hasn't had an opportunity to be the everyday guy since he left the Rays."
The GM said he called Arencibia on Sunday night to let him know his plans.
Through his struggles on the field, the catcher became a lightning rod for criticism this past season when the Jays were failing to live up to lofty pre-season expectations. The catcher lashed out on Twitter at Sportsnet analysts Dirk Hayhurst and Gregg Zaun over their negative comments.
He then deleted his Twitter account, posting in a final three-part tweet to his some 145,000 followers: "It's unfortunate to see how words are twisted to make false stories.
"I give way too much of myself to have others try and make me out to [be] something/someone I'm not."
"I will no longer be on twitter," he said. "Thanks to all the fans who support and praying for the others that hate. God bless."
Anthopoulos said in the "grand scheme of things," the fact Arencibia vented his frustration on Twitter wasn't a big deal, and said there were never any off-field issues with the former Jays catcher.
"I think he was probably one of our best guys in the community, always was available, always was a great supporter of the ball club, any time we had a need in the off-season," Anthopoulos said. "There's a lot of things he did behind the scenes that no-one saw so to me he was outstanding."