As the Texas Rangers assess their needs this offseason, everyone is discussing what will happen with Josh Hamilton. Most feel that the Rangers will not make a serious offer to Hamilton, meaning he will be heading down the road, but there is still a large amount of intrigue surrounding the situation. While everyone is focused on Hamilton, a better topic might be the Rangers interest in re-signing Mike Napoli.
Napoli captured the hears of many Rangers' fans in 2011 after what will most likely go down as the best season in Napoli's career. Napoli hit .320, with 30 home runs and 75 RBIs in 2011, but also compiled an OPS of 1.046 along with 55 extra-base hits. I don't think there were many who expected Napoli to duplicate those numbers in 2012, but most were hopeful for something similar. Napoli finished 2012 with a .227 average, 24 home runs and 56 RBIs, which are not horrible numbers for a catcher and are fairly similar to the numbers he was putting up with the Angels, but they are a decent drop off from 2011.
Napoli played in five fewer games in 2012, but struck out 40 times more than 2011. He also had only 35 extra-base hits and saw his OPS fall to .812. Defensively his numbers behind the plate declined as well with his percentage of runners thrown out dropping from 36% to 21% and his catcher's ERA increasing over a run per game from 3.16 to 4.32.
To Napoli's credit, all of the Rangers' catchers had difficulty throwing out potential base stealers and the problem was more to blame on the pitching staff than the men behind the plate. Napoli also spent a large amount of time on the disabled list in 2012 and was finally heating up at the end of the season. Still, this was a bit of a disappointment following 2011.
The problem with Napoli will lie on how the market determines his value. Will his numbers from 2011 play a major role as teams value his service or will they look at 2012 which was much more similar to his career numbers?
Just like with Hamilton, the Rangers will let Napoli head out on to the market and see what is out there. The difference with Napoli is that he is a player that truly seems like he wants to play in Texas. He has also been a great fit in the clubhouse and even though the pitching staff was not as successful with him behind the plate in 2012 as it was in 2011, he has been great when working with the Rangers' staff.
A year ago people were throwing crazy contract numbers around when discussing Napoli and were mentioning contracts similar to the ones that Yadier Molina and Victor Martinez have signed over the past few years. There is no way that Napoli will sign for close to those numbers, but if his contract heads into the four or five year territory the Rangers will most likely be out. If they can work out something with a two or maybe three year deal at around $10 million per season there is a great possibility that he will be back in Texas.
While some fans may not have been extremely happy with Napoli's performance in 2012, it was not that far off of what the Rangers expected when they traded for him before the 2011 season. His numbers were very similar in 2012 to the rest of his career and power numbers like that for a catcher are not that easy to find.
The Rangers do not have any options at catcher at the upper levels of the farm system and the only solid option they have is with Jorge Alfaro, but he is still multiple years away from the big leagues. He is a long ways from being ready, but could be great if he continues to develop. The Rangers will also not go with Geovany Soto as the everyday catcher and if they do not re-sign Napoli, they will have to find something from outside of the organization.
While people may have gotten spoiled by one of the greatest single seasons a catcher has seen in 2011, they should not let 2012 turn them off of Napoli. He is a great team leader with tons of power from behind the plate. If the right deal is there, he should be back in Texas, if not, it will be unfortunate and the Rangers will have to start looking elsewhere.
John Bowman is a lifelong baseball and Texas Rangers fan that loves to ponder the deeper aspects of the game. Some of his first baseball memories involve Arlington Stadium nachos, Charlie Hough's knuckleball, dirt on Pete Incaviglia's uniform and the voices of Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel as he fell asleep.
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