Mike Napoli seems so Red Sox.
It is so super easy to imagine Mike Napoli as a Red Sox catcher.
It hit me over the weekend. I really want Mike Napoli back on this team.
And I’m concerned it’s not going to happen, maybe because of the plans Boston appears to have for the grizzly, unbuttoned, versatile, Fenway-terrorizing 31-year-old.
The Rangers need a catcher right now. Probably two of them. The market (including via trade) is thin, as Thad Levine told Jim Bowden in a Monday radio interview. And the farm system is a couple years, at best, from producing a legitimate 1 or 1A candidate.
The club could be losing its number one power source, and losing a second power bat doesn’t sound so great. Napoli is a year removed from the Rangers’ second-highest single-season slug in the last 10 years. (If one of his 63 singles in 2011 had instead been a double, his .634 slug would have surpassed Josh Hamilton’s .633 in his 2010 MVP season.)
Napoli’s familiar with the pitching staff, a stability factor that seems like maybe it shouldn’t be overlooked with regard to a team planning to compete again for a World Series.
You could probably insert any hitter’s name, but I’m fascinated by the idea of what Dave Magadan could do with Napoli. That’s not a knock on Scott Coolbaugh, but Napoli seems more attuned than others who have played here recently to the Magadan approach – aggressive in the zone but working counts and forcing pitchers to throw strikes – and there’s at least some evidence that he’s open to and responsive to coaching, as he was quick to credit Johnny Narron in 2011 for his extraordinary turnaround that season.
Even though Napoli’s 2012 was not nearly as productive as his 2011, he saw even more pitches per plate appearance (4.41) than he had the year before (4.37), numbers that were far and away best on the team both seasons – and would have led Boston both years as well.
He’s a Magadan type of hitter, and of course that means he’s a Boston type as well.
Magadan had a lifetime .390 on-base percentage. In the last four years, only two Rangers hitters have had a single season at that level, led by Napoli’s .414 in 2011.
(Magadan also drew as many walks as strikeouts in all but the last of his 16 big league seasons, a feat accomplished in the last four Rangers seasons only by Ian Kinsler in 2011. Napoli’s not in that discussion, though.)
There’s a cascade of stories reporting that Magadan’s last employer, the Red Sox, think Napoli could be a good fit there, seeing lots of time at first base and some behind the plate. The fact that he’s one of only two players with a higher career slugging percentage in over 100 at-bats against Boston than Babe Ruth (Nelson Cruz .722, Napoli .696, Ruth .665) is probably a bigger factor than that Red Sox dirtdog look he throws down. And his lifetime Fenway numbers (.306/.397/.710) exceed what he’s done against Boston in his home parks and Fenway combined (.288/.379/.696).
But he also has a .275/.379/.552 career slash as a Ranger, and .266/.380/.532 at Rangers Ballpark (whether with Texas or Los Angeles). They’re not Fenway numbers, but they’re numbers that are going to be difficult to replace, and basically impossible to approach from a guy who can give you 50 to 70 games behind the plate.
Why didn’t Texas extend a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer a week and a half ago, to lock in a compensatory draft pick if he were to sign elsewhere? Not sure. I suppose it’s because the club didn’t want to risk tying up that much of its projected 2013 payroll in the event that he accepted the offer, and that there’s a sense in Arlington that his market for a two- or three-year contract will fall well short of that AAV, allowing the Rangers to stay in the game with him at a more palatable financial level.
But even if that’s the case, Boston won’t make this easy.
Neither will the Yankees, who were rumored on Monday (per Bob Nightengale [USA Today]) to be in on Napoli as well. The Mariners are said to be interested, too.
We’ve seen Napoli as locked in for long stretches as any hitter in recent Rangers memory, and we’ve also seen him completely lost for months at a time.
I’d really like to see Napoli get to work with Magadan, whose patient-aggressive mindset is exactly what Napoli exemplified in the second half of 2011 (.383/.466/.706) and in the World Series whose MVP honors were very nearly his.
He’d still need a backstop partner, whether it’s a veteran (Russell Martin?) or a promising young catcher if Texas could manage to pry one free (Travis d’Arnaud? Devin Mesoraco?). But that wouldn’t be a deterrent. No team is going to promise Napoli (a career-first) 100 games behind the plate, which is OK – since the bat will play at first or DH for another 100 or 200 at-bats or more.
”I love playing in Texas,” Napoli told Richard Durrett (ESPN Dallas). ”I love the atmosphere there, the clubhouse, playing for Wash, a winning ballclub. I love playing there. I know how the Rangers clubhouse is and it’s amazing. I’ve never been a part of anything like that, in terms of chemistry.”
Maybe the above was a completely predictable comment, but he also said to Durrett: “I like catching. I look at myself as a catcher.”
It’s something he’d likely do more of here than in Boston, which just gave two years to David Ross and, at least for now, still has Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway on the roster. The Red Sox evidently see Napoli as a first baseman who can catch on occasion.
Maybe it’s overly optimistic, but it just seems that Napoli, who wants to keep catching and who likes it in Texas, could be the perfect Magadan project.
And that if he’d take one or two years here, at reasonable money, he could set himself up for a monster payday, like the one he turned down from the Rangers last winter, after that.
As much as he looks like a standard-issue Red Sox player, I want that dude back in Texas. There’s some unfinished business to take care of here, and Mike Napoli should be part of the group that gets after finishing it off.