The Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton is the biggest name in this winter’s MLB Free Agent sweepstakes. So big a name is Hamilton, that another key offensive weapon in Texas is often overlooked. Mike Napoli, despite a precipitous decline from the previous season’s offensive production, provided 24 home runs and has been the team’s most productive catcher since Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
And like Hamilton, Napoli could seek a new suitor this winter. Should Napoli follow Hamilton, the Rangers could find themselves scrambling to replace a combined 67 HRs and 184 RBI from last season.
It’s funny to think that the Rangers wouldn’t re-sign Mike Napoli. After all, 2011—Napoli’s first season in Texas—might be best remembered as “The Year of the Napoli.”
For the better part of 2011, Napoli crushed every offering headed his way. His second-half frenzy and subsequent postseason romp—coupled with Nelson Cruz’s October power surge—helped drive the Rangers towards their second-straight American League Pennant. Tampa Bay’s manager, Joe Maddon—whose team was the first victim of Napoli and company—coined 2011 as “The Year of the Napoli,” a catchphrase that reverberated throughout the postseason as Rangers fans fervently chanted his name: “Nap-O-Li!! Nap-O-Li!!!” Few were the times that Napoli didn’t capitalize on his fan’s chants or the opposition’s pitches. However, as 2012 would attest, it was a good thing the Rangers were patient in signing him to a long-term deal.
The Rangers’ Patience Paid Off
By signing Napoli to a one-year $9.4M deal last February, the Rangers avoided arbitration and skirted a long-term commitment. Granted, there were those—present company included—that clamored to extend Napoli on a multi-year deal. 2011’s magical run proved a strong spell. As it turned out, not committing to Napoli long-term was a shrewd move. Since the Rangers decided to wait it out, they now have tangible proof that 2011 was more hot streak than a sustainable run of promised potential. Granted, since Napoli is one of the premier power-hitting catchers in baseball, his average annual salary should exceed last year’s one-year deal. A three-year, $36M contract would probably land “Nap-O-Li!!!” back in Arlington for the remaining years of his prime.
Despite last season’s statistical letdown, Mike Napoli—who has averaged 27 HRs per season while in Texas—has been the Rangers’ best offensive catcher since the iconic Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
Down on the Farm: Help at Catcher?
If there is a glaring weakness in the Texas Rangers’ farm system—a system ranked as one of MLB’s finest—then it is a lack of depth at the catching position. Former 2010 first round pick, Kellin Deglan is an intriguing prospect. Deglan flashed some power with Hickory of the South Atlantic League (SAL) in 2012, as he hit 12 home runs. Deglan, a career .225 hitter in the bush leagues, is athletic, but raw. Fangraph’s Mike Newman ranks fellow SAL luminary Jorge Alfaro slightly ahead of Deglan, with a high-ceiling and nearly non-existent floor. Like Deglan, the 19-year-old Alfaro is at least three years away from the big leagues.
Geovany Soto and Other FA Catchers (Been there, done that)
Geovany Soto is one option to replace Mike Napoli. Soto was acquired in the trade that netted the Rangers his former Chicago Cubs battery mate, Ryan Dempster, to boot. While with Texas, Soto, the 2008 NL ROY, flashed moments of greatness but was largely a letdown. Ironically enough, most of the free agent catchers available are former Rangers. Gerald Laird, Rod Barajas, Matt Treanor, and Yorvit Torrealba have all played in Arlington with varying degrees of success and failure. Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz, and Atlanta’s Brian McCann, are technically free agents, but both have 2013 club options that their teams are likely to exercise.
So, What do you think? Should the Texas Rangers re-sign Mike Napoli? I’d love to hear your feedback, just respond with your thoughts in our comments section below.