It's the second -- okay, technically the third -- week of March, and our tolerance level for what remains of the Cactus League rigmarole is nearing paper-thin proportions. I do, however, have a sneaking suspicion that there actually are some people out there who do, for one reason or another, enjoy the totality of spring training and its many contrived storylines, and I harbor a certain envy for those people. It must be nice to be capable of enjoying the next three-plus weeks of (largely) meaningless baseball.
For virtually everyone else, though, this is a beating of the highest magnitude -- and it's even worse this year, because there's a distinct lack of intriguing position battles to hold our attention, and little that can subdue our anxious desire to get another season going and commence with yet another attempt at climbing the World Series mountain. With that fully in mind, then, let's go ahead and kill a little more time by reverting back to contract talk, and, more specifically, the breakdown in those talks between Mike Napoli and the Rangers on a long-term contract extension.
There was a point in time within the last three months when it sounded as though such an extension was likelier to materialize than not, and a point in time not very long before that where a post-2012 future without Napoli sounded like a future that we wanted no part of. As of today, there is no extension in the offing (all related talks have been "squashed"), and the very distinct possibility of a post-2012 future minus both Napoli and playing-time sponge Yorvit Torrealba. That may not have you trembling in the knees in light of this organization's talent-identifying prowess and expanding payroll figures, and the thought of Napoli being gone after 2012 may only be a slight concern relative to the importance of him doing well during 2012, but it's still a disconcerting thought.
We know how this business works, though. A solid-to-good player has an great- to elite-caliber season, and consequently wants to be paid as though he'll be an elite player going forward, with the team (usually) deciding that meeting said player's demands is a poor idea. I get that, and I get why these talks would break down on that basis. What I wasn't fully prepared for, though, was this:
@OrMoyal I'm telling you, [Napoli's] not asking for that. He's not even asking for VMart's 4 for 52 ($13 per year).— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) February 11, 2012
I'm assuming that Grant is correct in his observation of what Napoli was seeking at this time a month ago; I'm also assuming that such a deal would have nullified and replaced Napoli's existing one-year, $9.4 million deal (which he signed in late February), such that he would then be locked up from 2012-15, and be paid approximately $40 million for his services from 2013-15.
And after you work through all of the math, and project forward from a $4.5 million-per-win baseline plus inflation, and so on and so forth, you find that $40 million over three years sounds quite reasonable in the abstract -- particularly for a player capable of chewing up copious amounts of defensive innings behind the plate, and who just turned in one of the greatest offensive seasons by any part- or full-time catcher in several decades, and who was, for that matter, an above-average player well before 2011 came and went.
So, what then? What was it that cooled the Rangers on Napoli to the degree that any and all long-term contract talks withered away on the vine? If it's primarily about the injured ankle (you know, the same one that both the organization and Napoli himself are insisting will be just fine), I get it. If it's not, though ... well, could it be that Texas doesn't believe Napoli will make it through his age 30-33 window in one piece? Or maybe that the Rangers think his 2011 season was much more of an aberration than most of us are inclined to believe, and that his steady offensive decline throughout the 2008-10 period is a better leading indicator of what's coming than what he did last year?
There's a good, logical, empirically backed answer out there somewhere, and I kind of wish I knew what it was. I've got my suspicions as far as why things have gone the way they have on this negotiating front, but there's still something just a bit strange about the jump from "an extension before Opening Day is likely" to Napoli reportedly demanding a reasonable sum to ... well, apparently, to all of the talks dying out.