Why Texas Didn't Keep Mike Napoli

Good luck in Boston, Mike Napoli - Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Looking at why Texas decided not to keep Mike Napoli

The acquisition of Mike Napoli has turned out to be one of the better moves that this Ranger regime has made. In exchange for Frankie Francisco, a pitcher they really had little desire to hang onto, the Rangers picked up a very useful catcher/1B/DH who became a fan favorite and who played a key role in the 2011 World Series team and last year's wild card team.

Napoli signed with Boston for 3 years, $39 million today, ending his run as a Ranger. If Texas had opted to match that deal to keep Napoli, I think I would have been okay with it.

However, given that the Rangers didn't even make him a qualifying offer of approximately $13.5 million for one year -- the amount they would have had to have tendered to qualify for draft pick compensation if he left -- it is clear that the Rangers weren't prepared to go $13 million for even one year, much less multiple years.

My guess is the Rangers offered 2 years at around $20 million, with a team option for 2015 at $13 million or so. And I think I understand why that's all the Rangers were willing to do.

Let me start with this quote from an article by Gordon Edes today:

Napoli, who visited Boston late last month, is expected to play primarily at first base for the Red Sox. He was identified early on as a logical target to fill the Sox's needs at first and gives the club another option behind the plate, if general manager Ben Cherington elects to shop Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the winter meetings.

I think that is critical in understanding why Boston was willing to pay him, and why Texas wasn't.

Boston has a plan for Napoli. That plan is for him to be their first baseman the next three years. Yes, he might catch if need be -- he's a great option to have as an emergency third catcher -- but he's not signed to catch. He's signed to be an everyday first baseman.

What would Texas's plan have been for Napoli, had he stayed?

He wasn't going to be the team's primary catcher. I tweeted this the other day, but it bears repeating...the problem with signing Napoli if you need a starting catcher is that, even if you sign Napoli, you still need a starting catcher.

Here are Napoli's career games started behind the plate, since entering the league in 2006:

2006 -- 77

2007 -- 68

2008 -- 71

2009 -- 84

2010 -- 67

2011 -- 57

2012 -- 69

Napoli actually started fewer games behind the plate in 2011, when the Rangers went to the World Series, than he did in any other major league season. Even last year, he started fewer games behind the plate than he did, on average, with the Angels.

And before you say, well, he can go ahead and catch 100 games, its not that big a stretch, remember: Napoli just turned 31. He has missed significant time the last two seasons due to injury. The Rangers had concerns about the toll that catching takes on his bat. And he's considered to be below-average defensively. You don't sign Napoli to be your starting catcher.

Well, you can argue, you can find at bats for Napoli. He can catch some, he can play some first base, he can DH some. He's like David Murphy...he may not have a full-time job, but you can still get him 400 plate appearances.

However, it also puts limits in place as to what you can, or want to, do with the rest of your roster. Mitch Moreland and Michael Young are your first baseman and DH right now. Is Napoli going to be your backup catcher? If so, you probably don't want to DH him as much (and his DH time is going to be limited if Young returns anyway, given the Young dynamic).

And if he's going to play first base against lefthanded pitchers, for example, it means he's not going to catch against lefties, which complicates matters in terms of matching up your pitchers to certain catchers (as the Rangers like to do).

Plus, the Rangers are apparently considering Ian Kinsler moving to first base at some point, under certain scenarios. That means dramatically reducing the amount of playing time Napoli could get there.

Now, you can reasonably respond, we have these discussions about David Murphy every season, and every season, Murphy gets 400+ plate appearances. And that's true. But that ignores two things:

First, the Rangers aren't having to make a 3 year, $39 million commitment for Murphy to fill that role. They can go year to year with him...much like they've gone year to year with Napoli the previous two years.

And second, Murphy hasn't missed significant time with injuries, as Napoli has. You're not worried about Murphy being unable to step up and fill in for an injured regular because he is also injured.

Ultimately, I'm sure the Rangers would have liked to have kept Napoli. He's a useful player who can fill several roles and provide you with versatility. But the Rangers wanted him back on their terms. They wanted to commit to him, and pay him, like a valuable role player, rather than a core regular. Boston viewed him as a core regular, and were willing to pay him as such.

And it may work out for them. I'm not as confident as some are, though, that this is a coup for Boston. For this to work out, you have to assume that:

1) Napoli will do a better job staying healthy that he has the previous two years, and

2) Napoli will hit better now that he's not being asked to catch regularly, and

3) Napoli's "old player" skill set (low contact rates, low average, high walks, high power) will age better than many suspect it will.

I'm going to miss Napoli. I wish him success in Boston. But I also don't blame the Rangers for passing at this price.

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