I love Mike Napoli. I'd love to see him win a World Series ring here. It's completely within the realm of possibility that Texas could commit stacks of cash to Napoli and that he could justify their faith in spades. I just wish I could convince myself that the odds of this possibility are all that great -- or, for that matter, that he's the right buy for Texas at the contract salary/length he's probably going to command.
It can feel rather hackneyed to quote yourself (especially when you're resurrecting a quote from only a week ago), but this feels like a case where doing so is exactly the right approach, because that quote perfectly conveys my sentiment this afternoon in the wake of Mike Napoli signing with the Red Sox for three years, $39 million. We all knew that this off-season was going to be a transitional period for the Rangers marked by some degree of roster turnover, and that turnover has begun in earnest today. And, yes, I'm still sorry that the Rangers couldn't win the big one with their 2010-11 core intact. I'm sorry they couldn't win the big one with Napoli.
Three major bullet points spring to mind here on the Napoli signing:
● I went back and forth over the last week trying to decide if I was being too risk-averse with regard tolast week's post on Napoli, and if the Rangers should actually pull the trigger on something in the general vicinity of three years and $40 million. Ultimately, though, I never was able to convince myself that it would have been the right call for Texas, and I'm able to sit here this afternoon and feel okay about the Rangers letting Napoli walk at that price, given all of my previously stated concerns on the matter of locking him in. It appears that similar apprehension won out within the Texas front office, as Jeff Wilson reported this morning that the Rangers never went past two guaranteed years with a third-year option in their offer to Napoli (who himself wanted four years, $40 million from Texas). It's a bummer that he's leaving, but I get it.
Keith Law has also chimed in today with his concerns about Napoli's production on a going-forward basis, and his thoughts on the matter closely mirror my own:
Napoli's current value is largely based on a 2011 stat line that stands out in almost every way from the rest of his career, other than the fact that he didn't play a full season even in that breakout campaign. He's a classic "old player's skills" player, patient with power, striking out a lot and contributing little on defense. Even in years when he doesn't hit for average, which is likely to happen more often than not, he can still help Boston offensively by getting on base and hitting for power, a skill he might retain longer than other players of his ilk because he's not just a dead-pull power guy. That said, he's 31, an age when bat speed can start to disappear quickly, and he's been about as durable as a Dixie cup, making this an extremely high-risk signing for the Red Sox even at just three years.
One commenter did point out on last week's post that I committed an oversight in not calling any attention to Napoli's injuries from last season, which presumably hampered his performance to at least some degree and which I should have at least mentioned in my discussion of his recent performance. A fair point, but here's the problem -- Napoli's entering the dangerous over-30 area of the aging curve, he's not particularly athletic, and he endured the better part of the 2012 season with significant lower-body injuries, including the quad strain that cost him more than a month and the severe ankle sprain from the 2011 World Series that never fully healed. Should we really be adjusting his 2013-15 projection upwards to compensate for that?
In other words, based on all available information, can we really feel confident in his ability to remain healthy over the next three years? If you can, more power to you. But I'm not sure I can, and, in that regard, Napoli is landing in as good a place as any as far as his health and performance are concerned, because the Red Sox aren't going to require his services behind the plate nearly as often in 2013 as the Rangers would have. Boston doesn't need him as a catcher, whereas Texas would have needed him to serve as a catcher on a fairly regular basis, and given our existing concerns about his health, workload, and overall decline potential, that's something you have to factor into your projection.
● About a month ago, the Rangers declined to extend a qualifying one-year, $13.3 million offer to Napoli, and Jon Daniels' rationale for the decision looked a little something like this: "We'd like to have Mike back, but not at that predetermined figure. I don't want to say anything disparaging about the guy. He has been a big part of our club for the past couple of years and we would like to have him back. But we just didn't want to start the offseason making that investment at that amount of money. We have a budget and there are a number of things that we want to do."
I understood the logic underlying that thought process, but it still struck me (and others) as a rather curious decision, because the prevailing belief at the time seemed to be that Napoli would decline a qualifying offer and hit the open market. If Napoli had declined the Rangers' qualifying offer and he had gone on to sign elsewhere, the Rangers would have netted a compensatory draft pick for their troubles -- a not-insignificant consolation price in this new era of artificial restraints on amateur talent acquisition. Ultimately, though, the Rangers seemed worried by the possibility that he would accept such an offer, and it seems that payroll-related concerns won out on that internal debate.
Now, however, in the wake of Napoli signing for nearly three times as much guaranteed money as the Rangers' qualifying offer, the questioning has commenced courtesy of Buster Olney:
It would be interesting to hear TEX internal review of whether it made right choice in not giving Napoli qualifying offer to get draft pick— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 3, 2012
The only other team that had significant public interest in Napoli was Texas, who chose not to extend him a qualifying offer and won't receive a draft pick even though his contract with Boston shows (in hindsight) that he would have been foolish to accept such an offer from the Rangers. Unless Texas is willing to bench Michael Young, they're probably only in the market for one bat, with Josh Hamilton the most likely and attractive target, and recently re-signed Geovany Soto in line to get most of the starts behind the plate.
I get the logic behind what transpired here on the qualifying offer front, and why they were loathe to jack their preliminary payroll close to $125 million before doing anything about the starting rotation or the bullpen or the outfield ... but it's hard to take a step back from all of this and not feel like the Rangers whiffed in terms of overestimating the likelihood of Napoli accepting their qualifying offer.
● With Napoli now out of the picture, and with Soto having re-signed with Texas for a reported $3 million, T.R. Sullivan runs down the list of remaining catching options that have some appeal to the Rangers, which includes Kelly Shoppach, Bobby Wilson, John Buck, J.P. Arencibia, and A.J. Pierzynski.
Sullivan notes that the Rangers could also go out and procure one of the Red Sox' other existing catchers (David Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or Ryan Lavarnway), but Sullivan mentioned in one of his mailbags late last month that the Saltalamacchia reunion probably wasn't going to happen: "There are those within the Rangers organization who like Saltalamacchia. But his time with the Rangers didn't end well a few years ago, and re-acquiring him would probably aggravate raw wounds on both sides, even though he has improved considerably since his departure."
For what it's worth, Ken Rosenthal reported this morning that the Rangers are now the most "aggressive" team on Josh Hamilton, and notes that re-signing him would "ease [the] sting of losingNapoli." I don't know what I'm supposed to believe in anymore.