The Cubs’ modus operandi in the early stages of free agency has been pretty clear: buy low on veteran players which, inevitably, they’ll hope to flip before next year’s trade deadline.
First, they inked right-hander — and 2012 Tommy John recipient — Scott Bakerto a one year, $5.5 million incentive-laden deal. Prior to the surgery, Baker was one of the more solid mid-rotation starters in baseball, averaging just over three wins above replacement since 2007.
And on Thursday word filtered out the team came to terms with former All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro. The deal, which was originally suspected to be of the minor league variety, is for one year and $1.75 million.
On the onset, it seems a bit much for a player that spent all but 24 games in Triple-A, let alone one that has hit a combined .215/.270/.323 since 2009. But this deal could end up as a solid buy for the organization, reminding everyone the type of prowess Theo Epstein and company showed in Boston.
Navarro’s fallen quite a bit since his 2008 All-Star season, when his offensive production was 5% above the league average. But a lot of Navarro’s struggles can seemingly be shouldered on bad luck, namely low BABIPs.
Since 2005, he’s had three normal BABIP years — years in which it was close to the league average (.290ish) — and four years that fall more than 40 points below it. And in the years close to the league average — 2005, 2006 and 2008 — he’s hit .278/.345/.385. Otherwise, he’s hit .214/.274/.327 (2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011). Last season, 2012, was ignored because he received only 69 PAs.
Now it’s pretty difficult given his up-and-down BABIP track record to know exactly where his true talent level is, but the Cubs front office is gambling that it’s not the player who’s shown low BABIPs in shorter sample sizes. And that seems reasonable. His walk rates are decent — 7.6% in his career — and he doesn’t hit a ton of groundballs either (41.4%). Granted, he doesn’t hit for a lot of power — .111 ISO.
This is smart buy-low option for the Cubs. They sign a player that has potentially been plagued by a lot of bad luck that has the upside somewhere close to a league average starter — if everything works out well. If not, it’s less than $2 million wasted.