David Stearns is apparently an early riser, as a report emerged before the sun came out in Milwaukee this morning that the Brewers are set to acquire catcher Omar Narvaez in a trade with the Seattle Mariners:
The #Brewers have found their primary replacement for Yasmani Grandal. They are close to acquiring catcher Omar Narváez from the #Mariners, a source tells The Athletic. M’s would receive at least one minor leaguer in return.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 5, 2019
After losing Yasmani Grandal to free agency and the Chicago White Sox, that left the Brewers with Manny Pina as the only proven catcher within the organization. But he'll now apparently pair with Narvaez, who is an excellent hitter at the plate and a terrible defender behind it.
Originally signed by the Rays as an international free agent in 2008, Narvaez was a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick by the White Sox in 2013. He made it to the big leagues three years later at age 24.
In parts of four MLB seasons since then, Narvaez is a .276/.361/.411 hitter for a 113 wRC+, which is nearly 30% better on offense than the league-average catcher. He has posted wRC+ marks of 122 and 119 over the past two seasons, including a .278/.353/.460 batting line with 22 home runs in 482 plate appearances in 2019. He walks a lot (11.3% career BB rate) and has shown good bat-to-ball skills (17.8% career K rate).
But for as strong as Narvaez is with the bat, his poor defensive ability has limited him from becoming a truly everyday catcher. The White Sox dealt him to Seattle prior to 2019 in large part because of his defensive issues, and he has never started more than 91 games behind the plate in a single season. Last year, he appeared in 22 games as a DH for the Mariners.
For his career, Narvaez has thrown out only 21% of would-be base stealers, and that figure dropped to 18% last year. He annually rates in the negative with his blocking, allowing three passed balls and 54 wild pitches in 2019. He is among the worst in terms of pitch framing, as well. Last season he was graded at -20 Defensive Runs Saved and -10.5 framing runs by Fangraphs. According to Baseball Prospectus' all-encompassing Fielding Runs Above Average metric, which includes pitch framing in its calculation, Narvaez rated at -12.3 runs despite catching only 815.2 innings.
In terms of overall value, despite being close to 40% better than the average catcher at the plate by wRC+ in 2019, Narvaez was worth only 1.8 WAR according to Fangraphs. BP pegged him at 2.3 WARP. That's anywhere from a 3-4 win drop-off from the level of production the Brewers received out of Grandal last season.
Narvaez's left-handed bat will fit nicely in a platoon with Pina, and he could see an additional boost at the plate by moving from Seattle to Miller Park. His presence on defense, however, figures to be of great detriment to the pitching staff, especially considering the catchers they've gotten to work with over the last few seasons.
No word yet on the return, but it doesn't figure to be a very highly regarded package heading to the Mariners. Importantly, Narvaez is projected to earn only $2.9 mil in arbitration this winter, and the soon-to-be 28 year old comes with three years of club control.
We will update this post as more news comes out regarding the deal.
Here is the reported return for Narvaez:
#Mariners acquiring #Brewers No. 24 prospect, 22-year-old RHP Adam Hill, and a Competitive Balance #MLBDraft pick (currently No. 70) from #Brewers in exchange for catcher Omar Narvaez.@Brewers' Top 30 Prospects: https://t.co/P9dau0Xc1o@MLBDraft order: https://t.co/Cx8iv5qgi5 pic.twitter.com/PmQp5EWBgG— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) December 5, 2019
Hill was picked up in the Keon Broxton trade last winter and profiles as a potential back-end starter or a reliever, and spent his entire age-22 pitching in Class-A for the Timber Rattlers. The comp pick was awarded to the Brewers yesterday and will take place between the second and third rounds of the 2020 Draft. Worth noting that this is now the second year in a row that the Brewers have traded away their compensatory draft selection.
The trade has been officially announced by the Brewers.