In a pair of developments that perfectly illustrate the fickle nature of professional baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers completed their agreement with free-agent catcher Dioner Navarro on Tuesday, signing him to a one-year, $1 million contract, even as two-time All-Star Russell Martin -- the man who supplanted Navarro as the Dodgers' primary catcher more than four years ago -- reportedly agreed to terms with the New York Yankees on a one-year contract.
It was the emergence of Martin in the summer of 2006 that led the Dodgers to determine that Navarro, who had become the team's starting catcher the second half of the previous season, was expendable. The Dodgers traded Navarro to Tampa Bay, along with pitcher Jae Seo, for pitcher Mark Hendrickson, catcher Toby Hall and cash on June 27, 2006.
Fast-forward, then, to two weeks ago, when Martin's star had fallen to the point that the Dodgers simply non-tendered him rather than giving him the $5 million guarantee he was seeking for 2011. By that time, the Dodgers were close to a one-year agreement with veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, but that fell apart when Pierzynski's old team, the Chicago White Sox, swooped in at the last minute with a two-year, $8 million offer.
With neither Martin nor Pierzynski an option, the Dodgers re-signed veteran Rod Barajas, who got most of the starts behind the plate after the Dodgers acquired him on Aug. 22 because Martin was done for the season with a hip injury, and then eventually signed Navarro.
Barajas, 35, and Navarro, 26, are expected to share time behind the plate for the Dodgers next season, on roughly a 60/40 split in favor of Barajas.
"[Navarro] is a lot more experienced than he was when he was here before," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "He was an All-Star catcher who was a full-time player when [the Rays] went to the World Series. He is still a young man, his opportunity here is strong, and his ability to stay here for a while is up to him at this point. We had a really good conversation, and I'm pleased we were able to get both him and Barajas."
Like Martin with the Dodgers, Navarro initially performed well for the Rays, making the American League All-Star team in 2008 and helping Tampa Bay reach the World Series in a season when he hit a career-high .295 with a .349 on-base percentage. But Navarro, a defensive specialist who has little power with the bat, never came close to those numbers again. He hit a combined .212 over the past two seasons, and his anemic .194 average in 2010 eventually resulted in his losing the primary catching job to rookie John Jaso.
Angry at being left off the Rays' playoff roster, Navarro left the team and went home -- which wasn't far, considering he lives in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. By all accounts, the Rays' decision to non-tender him after the season probably would have come even if Navarro had been a dutiful soldier and stuck around to root on his teammates in their first-round loss to the Texas Rangers, but that's a moot point now.
Colletti said Navarro's abrupt departure came up in negotiations, but that he was satisfied with Navarro's explanation.
"We talked about it, and he admitted that he could have made a better decision," Colletti said. "He said that when he was here before, he wasn't as wise as he is today. He said, 'I have learned a lot in the last few years, and I learned a lot this fall when I probably should have done something [different].'"
Navarro's contract, which carries no performance bonuses, will pay him a salary less than half the $2.1 million the Rays paid him each of the past two seasons.
The Navarro signing leaves the Dodgers with a full 40 players on their 40-man roster, with at least two stated needs -- an everyday left fielder and a relief pitcher -- yet to be filled. That means someone -- with first baseman John Lindsey the most likely candidate -- will have to be removed from the roster the next time the Dodgers add a player.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.