Dioner Navarro began the first day of spring training for the Toronto Blue Jays looking like a player without a care in the world.
In the cutthroat business of Major League Baseball, looks can be deceiving.
As the sun started to burn through the morning fog that enveloped this coastal city on Monday, Navarro and the other catchers trudged into the bullpen here at the Bobby Mattick Training Center to begin their work with the pitchers.
Navarro set up at one end of the 'pen, getting ready to catch Mark Buehrle, who was toeing the rubber 60-feet, six inches away.
The Toronto starter went into his windup and delivered his first pitch, and it was nasty stuff indeed. It was a battered rosin bag, and not a baseball, that Buehrle threw, and it exploded in a cloud of white dust when it struck the ground near Navarro.
Navarro appeared unfazed by his teammate's attempt at levity. His response was to pick up a baseball and fire it low back to Buehrle, forcing him to do a little hop as the ball skipped between his legs.
It was boys-being-boys stuff, to be sure.
But Navarro's lighthearted mood had evaporated by the time he met with reporters and stated in no uncertain terms that he wanted the American League team to trade him.
"I was kind of frustrated throughout the whole off-season – I was a little disappointed that nothing has happened yet," Navarro said. "It's just a suck position to be in. I just want to play, I just want to keep improving and showing that I'm capable of doing this on a daily basis."
Navarro was speaking from the heart, not out of any apparent malice to his employee. He said he is at camp with the proper attitude and willing to do what the team wants. For the time being, at least.
But the 11-year player admitted to being dismayed when, coming off his best offensive season as Toronto's 2014 starting catcher, the Blue Jays went out and signed all-star free agent Russell Martin to take his job.
And all it took to lure Martin to Canada was a five-year pact worth $82-million (U.S.). This season, Navarro will earn $5-million in the final season of a two-year deal.
"I think I put myself in a really good position last year, and I expressed throughout the whole year last year how grateful I was with the Blue Jays for giving me the opportunity," said Navarro, who hit .274 with 12 homers in 139 games in 2014. "And I don't know where, or if, anything did go wrong. I'm a pro, I'm going to do my job, I'm going to be ready for whatever and see what happens."
The Blue Jays have said all along that they did not enter the off-season with the intention of finding a substitute for Navarro. But when Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos discovered he had a chance at signing Martin off the free-agent market, it was an opportunity he could not pass up to upgrade his roster.
Manager John Gibbons said that he would be surprised if Navarro felt any other way about his predicament.
"I can't blame him for not being happy," Gibbons said. "He's a competitor, he's a big-league player – a good one. But we made the decision, we thought bringing Russell in is going to give us a big, big boost."
Gibbons said there is room on the roster for Navarro as a backup catcher or as the designated hitter.
Martin said he has known Navarro since 2006 when they were teammates on the Los Angeles Dodgers. He agreed that it is a tough situation for his teammate.
"I'm sure that if he could be in a gig where he'd catch every day, I'm sure he'd prefer that," Martin said. "But that's something that's out of his control now. One thing he can control is his attitude, and so far it's been fantastic. And it hasn't made me feel weird at all."
The Blue Jays have said they plan to give Martin every opportunity at spring training to see if he can handle R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball. So it was surprising to see Martin lining up to catch Daniel Norris in the first bullpen, with Josh Thole in his regular spot behind the plate to handle Dickey.
There's plenty of time to get both Martin and Dickey together, Gibbons assured all the worrywarts.
Meanwhile, the only no-show on the first official day of camp was Brett Cecil, who will be auditioning for the closer's role. Cecil was not feeling well, according to Gibbons, and was given the day off.