Free! Free at last! Confirming rumors we’d heard earlier today about A.J. Ellis being on his way back to the bigs, the Dodgers have announced today that they have DFA’d the utterly useless Dioner Navarro. Since this is something I’ve been looking for since, oh, the moment it became clear Navarro was making the team over Ellis last winter, you can imagine that I’m just a little excited about it. It says a lot about our distaste for Navarro that a 30-year-old minor league lifer with fewer than 200 career MLB plate appearances is headed back to the bigs in his place and it couldn’t make me happier. As absolutely no one needs to be reminded, I’ve been decrying the Barajas/Navarro pairing for months and as the two have continued to flail on a low-OBP team, the mistake had become even more glaring.
I do have to wonder about the timing, however – rosters expand in just over a week. If they’ve stuck with Navarro for nearly five fruitless months, I don’t quite understand why they couldn’t for another eight days, particularly since Rod Barajas is just barely off an injury. (To be honest, when I heard Ellis was coming up, my thought was that Barajas would be DL’d, not Navarro DFA’d.) It’s long been Ned Colletti’s goal to keep as many players under contract as possible, and this doesn’t quite fit into that – unless there’s more to the story that we don’t yet know. (I also wonder if this increases the chances of Tim Federowicz making a September cameo, since teams always want a third catcher when rosters expand. I had figured they wouldn’t since that would mean adding him to the 40-man roster before they needed to, but with JD Closser gone, the only other choices are Damaso Espino or the long-lost Hector Gimenez.)
As for Ellis, he’s continued doing what he always does, hitting .304/.467/.418 in AAA, even connecting for his first two homers since 2008. Take that with the requisite grain of salt, of course, as we always talk about how ABQ stats can’t be trusted, since the environment down there is so offense-friendly. Explain this, then: at home, Ellis has a 11/15 K/BB mark. That’s pretty good, right? On the road, that’s 35/12. 35! It’s the same mastery of the strike zone he’s been displaying for years, with a 283/336 career K/BB mark, and he hasn’t seen an OBP below .382 down there since 2005. Not like the Dodgers need OBP or anything, of course.
Now let’s be fair: A.J. Ellis will never be a star in the bigs. It’s more than likely he’ll never even be a starter in the bigs. But just look at how low the bar is set behind the plate in the bigs right now; hell, look no further than the Dodgers continuing to play Barajas and Navarro. How much do you really have to do to be an improvement there? What they’ve been going with isn’t working, and they have a superior option in-house. Ellis is without question the best of the three at getting on base, and is by most accounts the best defender of the three as well. (I don’t want to put too much stock into this, but go check who was catching during Chad Billingsley‘s late-June/early-July excellence.)
With Ellis being out of options in 2012, the time is now to see if he’s going to help you. They’ve done the right thing by saying enough is enough with Navarro and his “I’m hitting .193 after hitting .194 and .218 the last two years, but hey, I had a fluky good 2008!” act. Don’t play Barajas just for the sake of playing him. Look towards next year, and play Ellis every day right now.