With Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila officially signed, the White Sox think they’ll be better behind the plate in 2016.
Whereas the team has been more defensive-minded over the past few seasons with Tyler Flowers as the starter, general manager Rick Hahn thinks the White Sox should receive an offensive upgrade at catcher without much of a drop off on the back end. A week after they finalized a one-year deal for Avila, the White Sox announced Navarro has signed a one-year contract for $4 million. Last season, White Sox catchers combined for a .656 OPS, which ranked 17th among 30 teams in the majors.
“We wouldn’t have made the moves if we didn’t feel we were better all around,” Hahn said. “We were clearly a team that scuffled to score runs in 2015 and as we’ve made clear since the start of the offseason, improving that was one of our priorities. Catcher was probably not high on people’s list as the area of need, but that didn’t mean in an effort to improve ourselves anyway we can, that we wouldn’t pursue it. When the opportunity arose to add both Alex and Dioner, we feel like from a run-scoring standpoint we are stronger and frankly from a run prevention standpoint that there may well not be that significant of a difference from where we were in 2015.”
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Even though he’s coming off a season when he was below average offensively, Navarro has a .315 on-base percentage the past two years and should put the ball in play far more than the White Sox recently have seen from their catchers.
Last season, White Sox catchers struck out in 28.8 percent of their plate appearances even with a personal reduction by Flowers, who dropped to 28.8 percent from 36 in 2014.
Navarro — who started for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014 but lost his job when Russell Martin signed a five-year deal — has a 13.9 percent career strikeout rate.
Even Avila’s 25.7 percent career strikeout rate against right-handed pitching is an improvement, as is his career .345 on-base percentage.
Though he was happy to be part of the American League East-winning Blue Jays club last season, Navarro, who turns 32 in February, sought more time on the field in 2016.
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“I’m really just looking forward to playing,” Navarro said. “That was one of my issues last year. I was really happy with the team I was on, but I wasn’t playing much. I just wanted to play and I think this opportunity with the White Sox showed me it was going to be a great one and just to try take advantage of it.”
Because he’s a switch-hitter (Avila is likely to only face right-handed pitchers), Navarro gives manager Robin Ventura flexibility to start the hotter hand behind the plate. Hahn suggested playing time would go the most deserving candidate.
“Whoever stands out is going to get bulk of the playing time,” Hahn said. “There is the opportunity for it to evolve into a straight platoon. But especially given Dioner’s ability to switch-hit, we are going to go into camp with an open mind and see how things evolve.”
The White Sox hope to reignite an offense that flopped in 2015. Though many of the same faces are expected to return, they’d like to tweak a unit that produced the fewest runs and home runs in the AL and finished 14th in OBP.
Hahn and his front office are headed to the Winter Meetings in Nashville on Sunday in hopes of furthering that quest. The focus is decidedly on the left side of the infield, though the White Sox could go in a number of different directions. Hahn is also confident he has ample time and resources to get done what he needs
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“You see the need to improve our production at a couple of spots,” Hahn said. “Those are mostly focused in the infield.
“We would love to be able to make some moves and address other needs as we hit town next week. At the same time there is no extra credit for getting a guy on your roster in the second week of December versus the third or fourth. A lot of more active clubs last year got a fair amount of their work done after they left the Winter Meetings, in fact.”