MILWAUKEE — With a roster full of holes, David Stearns didn’t wait for the baseball winter meetings to start making moves.
Stearns, the Milwaukee Brewers’ president of baseball operations, shored up his catching corps on Thursday, acquiring Omar Narváez from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for pitching prospect Adam Hill as well as a Competitive Balance Round pick in next year’s draft.
“This has been a conversation that has been ongoing since the start of the offseason, really,” Stearns said during a conference call with reporters. “We’ve talked over the course of the offseason to a number of teams about catchers and to a number of free agent catchers. At this point, we got comfortable with this deal and we’re excited to add Omar to our team.”
Narváez, 27, slashed .278/.353/.460 with 22 home runs, 55 RBIs and an .813 OPS in 428 at-bats for the Mariners last season. A left-handed hitter, he hit .289 with 20 home runs against right-handed pitchers, setting up a likely platoon situation with returning catcher Manny Pina to fill the void left by Yasmani Grandal’s departure in free agency.
Grandal signed a four-year, $73 million deal with the Chicago White Sox last month.
Along with power, Narváez has shown impressive plate discipline during his career. He struck out only 92 times while drawing a career-best 47 walks a year ago. Narváez also is a strong contact hitter whose weighted runs created plus of 119 put him fourth among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances last season, just behind Grandal, who finished with 121.
“(Narváez) controls the strike zone very well and he’ll put the ball in play,” Stearns said. “That adds to his offensive approach and adds to his offensive value.”
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Narváez’s defense, however, needs some work. He ranked near the bottom of the American League with minus-20 defensive runs saved while throwing out just 18% of runners trying to steal. The Brewers, though, are confident catching instructor Charlie Greene can help improve that aspect of Narváez’s game in spring training.
“All players have areas for growth and all players have areas where they can seek improvement and in this case, Omar’s area for growth is on the defensive side,” Stearns said. “He is aware of that and he understands that. We will work hard with him to help in that area. I know he’s willing to work hard in that area and frankly, it’s a place where have had some success in the past helping players improve.”
Signed as an amateur free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, Narváez was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the minor league portion of 2013 Rule 5 draft. He made his big league debut in 2016 and played 221 games for the White Sox over the next three seasons, slashing .274/.366/.379 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs before he was traded to Seattle last November.
Narváez has three seasons of team control remaining and according to baseball-reference.com will earn around $2.9 million this year after his first round of salary arbitration.
“I like the city, I like the stadium, I like the fans. I like everything about it,” said Narváez, who went 2-for-10 with a walk during the Mariners’ three-game interleague series at Miller Park last season.
“It’s a team that’s always competing to be in the postseason and at some point in my career, I wanted to be on one of those teams so why not now?”
Milwaukee acquired Hill, 22, from the New York Mets last winter as part of a package for outfielder Keon Broxton. Hill spent the season at Class A Wisconsin where he went 7-9 with a 3.92 ERA in 26 appearances.
“For his one year in our organization, he handled himself very well,” Stearns said of Hill. “He’s a prospect and somebody we had to give up in order to make this deal happen.”
With the catching position settled, Stearns can turn his attention to the Brewers’ other areas of need: the corner infield spots, the starting rotation and the bullpen. With a long to-do list, he expects to be busy once the winter meetings begin Sunday in San Diego.
“At this point, we remain engaged on all fronts — trades and free agency,” Stearns said. “It’s always difficult to know whether anything gets done at the winter meetings, but I do think it will be a busy week for us from a discussion standpoint and continuing to understand what’s on the market.”