Will the Milwaukee Brewers give Omar Narvaez a second chance to prove that he can still be the team’s catcher of the future?
The Milwaukee Brewers were busy last offseason, that’s for sure. The team brought in new players via free agency and trade at several positions across the diamond: infield, outfield, starting rotation, bullpen, you name it.
One of the more intriguing acquisitions from last offseason was a trade that brought catcher Omar Narvaez to the Brewers from the Mariners for a lower level prospect. When you combined his offensive production from 2018 and 2019 with the low cost it took to acquire him, it makes sense why fans were excited with the move.
Though there were questions about Narvaez’s defensive chops, the hope was that his offense would more than make up for it. The fact that he slashed a combined .277/.358/.448 with 31 homers and a 4.0 bWAR from ’18-’19 made it seem like there was a good chance that he would.
But then the 2020 season happened and that excitement quickly disappeared. Plenty of Brewers struggled offensively last year, but Narvaez had one of the worst offensive seasons of all, so much so that he received one of our lowest report card grades on the team.
Now Narvaez has reached his second year of arbitration. Do the Brewers hope that last year was an aberration and that he can revert to his pre-2020 levels of success, or do they cut ties now and move on to a more sure thing?
A combination of offensive history, 2020 struggles for the Brewers, and his projected arbitration raise make the case of Omar Narvaez an interesting one.
In determining whether the Brewers tender a contract to Narvaez for 2021, let’s start by looking at his potential arbitration raise. MLB Trade Rumors projects his raise to land anywhere in the $2.725MM (actually his non-prorated 2020 contract value) to $3.1MM range.
That is not the type of money you want to pay for someone to slash .176/.294/.269 with a 31% strikeout rate. But if you’re getting the type of production that Narvaez had the two seasons before that, then the price becomes much more reasonable.
So you have a 28-year-old catcher with a history of solid offensive production prior to 2020 due to be paid somewhere around $3MM next season, but a tight payroll situation and no guarantee of a bounce back in 2021. At this point, the predicting the decision is almost as easy as flipping a coin.
However, looking at the alternate options at catcher makes the decision a little clearer. The Brewers do have Manny Pina and hope he will return to form next season after an injury ended his 2020 season prematurely. But he has never had an OPS+ over 100 and works best in a complementary role.
They also have Jacob Nottingham who showed some pop with four homers in 54 plate appearances last season. He batted just .188 though and struck out 37% of the time, making him no better of an option at catcher than Narvaez.
Options on the free agent market, outside of J.T. Realmuto who is way out of Milwaukee’s price range, aren’t particularly inspiring either. Looking at MLB.com’s list of available free agents, every top available catcher is over the age of 30 and few have a combined fWAR over the last two years over 1.0.
Any of the few free agent catchers worth having will be pricey. So in the end, I think Narvaez ultimately gets tendered a contract for 2021, not only because the team will be banking on him tapping into his previous offensive success, but also because there aren’t many other options out there.
The deadline to tender contracts for 2021 is next Wednesday. We’ll see after then if the Brewers need another catcher of the future or not.