The Mike Napoli Problem

My take on The Worst Trade in the World Ever was that clearly the Angels’ motivation was to get rid of Mike Napoli, who everyone acknowledges is a bad catcher and a somewhat limited hitter against right-handed pitchers. These are not insignificant problems for a player who, though he hits well for a catcher, is not nearly so good for a first baseman or DH.

The Angels also as well as upgrade the aging and unreliable Juan Rivera in the outfield.

This isn’t to excuse the Angels’ side of this. It’s near impossible to imagine that if they had insisted that the Blue Jays throw in, say, $10M (or heck, $25M) along with Vernon Wells for Napoli and Juan Rivera, that the Jays wouldn’t have gone for it. But I think it’s worth noting that Napoli was unlikely to be a positve force this year on the Angels because Mike Scioscia wasn’t going to let him catch, he wasn’t going to displace Kendry Morales at first base, and the Angels needed room for Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter to DH a fair amount.

The Jays’ subsequent dumping of Napoli on the Rangers is further evidence of that. Johan Keri tries to argue that this is a good trade for both sides, but his reasoning is a little mushy, even if you follow his own argument. It’s really more like a shuffling of resources and money, to which both teams find some appeal.

Napoli’s role on the Rangers, apart from injury, appears to be about 200 AB vs. left-handers while platooning at first base with Mitch Moreland, and an occasional turns behind the plate and at DH. The Rangers signed a catching regular (Yorvit Torrealba) in the offseason, and according to Keri the Rangers’ braintrust likes good defensive catchers (like backup Matt Treanor). With DH filled by Michael Young, there aren’t that many additional at bats to be had for Napoli with the Rangers unless Moreland fails or there is an injury.

But there may well be more than he would have had with the Jays. Not only is Toronto committed to JP Arencibia this year at catcher, but they have Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind at 1B and DH. The marginal advantage of Napoli over any of them, especially given his defensive limitations at catcher, was small, and now he’s gone.

The point here isn’t that Napoli is a waste, but rather that despite his admirable and somewhat overlooked offensive skills, as a complete player he clearly isn’t a valued commodity. His poor defense reduces his marginal value substantially at catcher, and he doesn’t hit enough to be a regular first baseman. With a price of somewhere around $5-$6M this year he’s an expensive platoonist versus lefties. It seems the Rangers recognize that and are willing to pay.

So were the Angels, in their own way.

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