In a few weeks, the Rays will have to decide whether to tender an offer to Dioner Navarro or not. If they do and the two sides must head to arbitration yet again, Navarro is guaranteed to make 80% of his salary from 2009, or 1.68 million at minimum.
Presumably, the Rays will exercise Gregg Zaun's 2 million dollar option and continue to play him against right-handed pitching. Generally speaking, that's about 60-70% of the playing time. If Navarro were a consistently good player, this would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. His OPS since 2007 are as follows:
From all-star season to the worst of his career. Navarro has picked up some irritating habits this year and there's little way of knowing whether his allergy to walks will cease anytime soon, but it still seems unlikely that he performs this poorly next year. To expound on that, he is set to be a 26-year-old next season and his ZiPS rest of season projection still has him with a wOBA over .290. That's not good, mind you, but definitely expect a better season next year.
The Rays have to answer whether they think he can regain what made him a successful player in the past. Some of it was luck, but also drawing walks and taking pitches that the baseball rulebook defines as "balls". Let's take a look at his runs above average the past three years (which is to say: RAR - Replacement on FanGraphs Value section):
Despite not measuring his defense and playing catcher, Navarro has still been a well below average player in two of those three years. If you extend this back to 2006 the trend still lends favor to the idea that he's a below average baseball player. Of course, he has age, prospect history, and position on his side. The Rays have to weigh whether Navarro's upside is worth more than the saved money and potentially better performance in the short-run.
The list of free agent catchers is pretty horrendous although the Rays only need a righty who can hit lefties, which narrows their shopping list. That leaves you with names like Henry Blanco, Ramon Castro, and Bengie Molina. That's an uninspiring trio, however there are some non-tender candidates and minor league free agents at catcher who could make sense, and there's always trades.
All told, it's hard to see him leaving for nothing, which makes him being traded a much more likely possibility. Having to pay Navarro nearly two million dollars next season isn't an idea that inspires jubilation, but the alternatives on the free agent market are likely to cost the same.
I doubt the Rays non-tender him, but I could see the case for it.