Jerry Dipoto never takes a break, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The Seattle Mariners general manager completed a deal with the Chicago White Sox on Friday afternoon, acquiring 26-year-old catcher Omar Narvaez in exchange for right-handed reliever Alex Colome, who led the American League in saves two years ago.
“Omar has quietly developed into one of the tougher outs among catchers in MLB,” Dipoto said in a press release. “His contact and on-base skills are welcome additions to our lineup. The fact that he is also under club control through 2022 made him a great fit for our club.”
The Mariners needed a catcher after trading Mike Zunino to the Rays earlier this month. That was before they traded James Paxton to the Yankees and before the swirling trade rumors that took off Thursday of a potential blockbuster deal that would send star closer Edwin Diaz and second baseman Robinson Cano to the New York Mets.
But reports also circulated that Dipoto had his hand in many other trade proposals, leading one executive to tell The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that it seemed like the Mariners had 100 trades in the works.
So what are the Mariners getting in Narvaez?
He’s under club control until 2023 and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2020. Narvaez, who was born in Venezuela and hits left-handed, made his big-league debut two years ago. He had his most productive season playing 97 games for the White Sox in 2018 after Welington Castillo’s drug suspension, batting .275/.366/.429 with nine home runs.
Narvaez hit a double off Angels pitcher Jered Weaver in his first major-league at-bat.
The Mariners love controlling the strike zone and Narvaez has a career .366 on-base percentage in 221 big-league games. Compare that to Zunino’s .276 career on-base percentage.
“I’m really happy (to be in Seattle),” Narvaez said in a conference call. “Because I see a lot of talent coming up. And what I’ve noticed is that we’re going to go rebuild, but it doesn’t matter if we’re rebuilding or not, we’re still going to try to win games and do our best to give Seattle fans good-looking games. Whether we’re rebuilding or not, we’re still trying to win.”
Zunino has been praised, though, for his defense, which kept him on the field despite his offensive struggles. Metrics have shown Narvaez isn’t nearly as proficient. He ranked 62nd out of 67 catchers this season in getting extra strikes for his pitchers (pitch-framing).
Narvaez said he recognizes he still needs to work on his defensive skills. He said he was an infielder when he was younger, but figured his best route to to the pros was to follow in what his five uncles all did — and that was catch.
“I just want to get my body in better shape,” Narvaez said. “I’m still working on my framing and my skill work behind the plate. For me, every year is new for me. So every day I’m still trying to learn something new and I have a really open mind. I’m going to try to do everything I can.”
This deal did cost the Mariners Colome, the 29-year-old who paired with Diaz as a dominant setup reliever after the Mariners acquired him from the Rays in May along with Denard Span. Span is a free agent.
Seattle traded pitchers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero to get Colome and Span, so this essentially means the Mariners traded Moore and Romero for Narvaez, and four really productive months from Colome and Span.
Colome was under club control for the next two seasons, but he was also expected to make $7.3 million in arbitration while Narvaez will make the major league minimum.
And Narvaez adds to the Mariners’ stockpile of young talent. It’s not December yet and Seattle has already jettisoned Zunino, Paxton, Colome and Guillermo Heredia in trades, Nelson Cruz and Span are free agents and you can bank neither will be with the team next season. The Mariners have also been working on a pending deal to send Cano and Diaz to the Mets — not to mention trade rumors that have surrounded shortstop Jean Segura and right-hander Mike Leake.
This is clearly shaping into more than just a step back for the Mariners, despite Dipoto stating they’re surrendering 2019 to focus on making a run in 2020 or 2021.
Along with Narvaez, the Mariners have also acquired the Yankees’ top prospect, left-handed starter Justus Sheffield alongside two other prospects, from the Paxton deal and 26-year-old outfielder Mallex Smith from the Zunino trade.