Tampa Bay Rays seem willing to see if catcher Dioner Navarro can come back

BOSTON — Of the three most disappointing Rays, DH Pat Burrell has the farthest to go, CF B.J. Upton is the most important to the team and C Dioner Navarro poses the biggest question.

Unless the Rays find a taker for Burrell and his $9 million salary (a chatted-about deal with the Cubs for Milton Bradley appears unlikely) or unless they get overwhelmed with an offer for Upton (since they can't afford to trade when his value is low), both will be back — and, the Rays can only hope, better.

Navarro, however, poses a much bigger question. That's because the Rays not only have to decide how likely it is he can be more like the 2008 All-Star than the 2009 flop but also how much they are willing to pay to find out.

Navarro made $2.1 million in 2009 in his first year of arbitration (while losing his case) and, in a system that rarely works against the player even after a bad year, could be in line for a hefty raise, to somewhere in the $2.6 million to $3 million range.

The Rays can circumvent that by making a preemptive offer — though, if you're wondering if they'd go hard-line, the rules forbid more than a 20 percent pay cut (to $1.68 million) — with the threat of cutting him loose (nontendering) if he declines, which could be an interesting strategy since Navarro lives in the area and wants to stay.

Executive VP Andrew Friedman says determining the catching tandem is "definitely a focal point" for the offseason, as they have a $2 million mutual option on Gregg Zaun, three others on the 40-man roster (Shawn Riggans, John Jaso, Jose Lobaton) and Michel Hernandez at Triple A.

But from what Friedman and manager Joe Maddon said at last week's season wrapup, it sounded as if they were willing to give Navarro, 25, another chance.

"One thing I love about Navi, among a lot of things, is that this guy really accepts constructive criticism well," Maddon said. "We sat down in his exit meeting and hammered him, and he sat there and took it. I really believe he's going to make the effort this offseason to get it done."

"He gets it," Friedman said. "I think this offseason he's extremely focused on getting back to the level of player that he was."

That's exactly what he's doing, agent Kendall Almerico said, though a decision on winter ball hasn't been made yet. "He's going to work harder than he ever has," Almerico said. "He listens to criticism, he responds to challenges. He's going to do his best. He wants to be part of this team."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: The Cubs may want it thought otherwise to stir interest, but there has been little recent talk and slim chances for a Bradley-Burrell deal. … There's a short list of candidates for the hitting coach job but likely no action until the postseason and managerial changes are completed. … One way to have a true closer is to develop one, and LHP Jake McGee — whose recovery from Tommy John surgery went well — is a candidate for eventual conversion from starter. … As impressive as OF Desmond Jennings was in Double and Triple A, Friedman pointed out it was his first full, injury-free professional season and said "it's very unrealistic" to think he'll make the big-league club out of spring training. … Among the goals for next season: 1,000 innings from the starting pitchers; they had an AL-high matching 970 this season. … Friedman said OF Matt Joyce should "have the mind-set to come in and win a job.''

Tampa Bay Rays seem willing to see if catcher Dioner Navarro can come back 10/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 11, 2009 12:54am]

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