Navarro certain he can handle everyday role
After years as a part-time player, catcher is excited for opportunity with Toronto
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Dioner Navarro knows there are plenty of skeptics out there, but instead of getting frustrated by the criticism, he's using it as motivation for the upcoming season.
The 30-year-old veteran is a former All-Star, but he's also someone who hasn't been an everyday player since 2009. That's the main reason more than a few eyebrows were raised this offseason when the Blue Jays signed Navarro to a two-year contract with the goal of making him their No. 1 catcher.
Navarro now has an opportunity to revitalize his previously meandering career. The so-called "rebirth" -- as he likes to call it -- actually happened in 2013 with a successful season in Chicago, but the real test will come when his playing time is significantly increased with the Blue Jays.
"I know there's a lot of doubt, I don't really care, I know what I have to do," Navarro said on Sunday, the day Blue Jays pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training for their physical examinations in advance of Monday's first workout.
"[The doubts] are good for me, I love the challenge. I don't like to use the term 'proving people wrong' because I don't have to prove anything but to myself and to the organization. ... [But] I'm really happy and grateful that they gave me this opportunity, and I look forward to the challenge."
Based strictly on first impressions, Navarro appears to be a polar opposite of J.P. Arencibia. Toronto's former No. 1 catcher became defiant and put his back up whenever there was the slightest bit of criticism directed his way from the media or even his own coaching staff.
Navarro has encountered similar critiques, but instead of taking it personally, he takes it all in stride. That's the added benefit of having been in the big leagues for the past 10 years and having served in just about every role imaginable. There were his banner seasons with the Rays, a trip to the Minor Leagues in 2012 and last year's platoon with the Cubs.
The native of Venezuela still has plenty of baseball left in the tank, but he's already seen and experienced just about everything possible in the big leagues. It's something he plans on using to his advantage as he tries to move past a frustrating part of his career.
"It wasn't fun, that's for sure," Navarro said of his time spent as a part-time player. "It wasn't what I expected to happen in my career, but at the same time, I'm kind of happy it happened. I got a wake-up call, if you can call it that. I kind of realized where I was at that point and where I wanted to be.
"I think the last two years speak for themselves, and I'm here because I have a new opportunity, I had a rebirth and I'm trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get. That's the way I see it and that's the way I've been for the last few years."
Navarro seemed to be losing his place in the Major Leagues until he turned things around in a hurry last year in Chicago. He posted a .300 average and a .365 on-base percentage with 20 extra-base hits and 34 RBIs in just 89 games.
According to Navarro, the main reason for the turnaround in his career has been a rededication to his work off the field. His conditioning and nutrition have improved over the past several years, and he now spends his offseason working out with Reds first baseman Joey Votto in nearby Bradenton.
Navarro and Votto were teammates in 2012 and have maintained a friendship ever since. In terms of a workout partner, you can't do much better than a former National League Most Valuable Player and one of the best overall hitters in the Major Leagues.
"He loves the game, knows the game, wants to be the best at everything he does, and I think if you approach the game that way, good things are going to happen to you," Navarro said. "That's how I approached it the last two years, picking his brain a little, talking to the hitting coach that we have, and I'm just putting myself in a better position to succeed.
"I don't attribute everything to that, but I think the more you play, the better you get. I got to know my body a little better, I put myself in a stronger position with health, the long season. I did a little better job with myself, trying to do what I know I'm capable of doing."
Navarro sidestepped a question when he was asked about how many teams were after him this offseason, but it's clear why the Blue Jays were successful in their bid for his services. More than anything else, Navarro wanted an opportunity to play, and Toronto was one of the only organizations with a starting job that was up for grabs.
"I just wanted to play, man," Navarro said. "I want to become a much, much better player than what I am right now. I felt like this was the opportunity, this was the organization. We have a great team and now we have to put it together."