Catcher Mike Napoli was traded from the Angels to the Blue Jays just three days ago, and it appears he is on the move again, this time for Rangers reliever Frank Francisco. While this move certainly makes the Blue Jays’ already good bull pen that much more intimidating, I’m left scratching my head at this move. Perhaps there’s something that managers, coaches, and executives see that we as fans and bloggers do not. However, I have to ask: Why is it that nobody seems to like Mike Napoli very much?
Napoli has earned his reputation as a patient, powerful slugger behind the plate, putting up wOBAs of .399, .362, and .340 the last three years. It would also appear that he is not a very good defender at catcher, allowing 17 passed balls in the past 3 years. (Rob Johnson has 18 in the past two years, for what it’s worth. Don’t act like you weren’t wondering) Despite his poor defense though, he’s managed to be an above average player the last three seasons, averaging almost exactly 2.7 WAR, and only one of those three seasons was a full season. If Napoli sees some neutral luck, and his BABIP, which dipped to .279 last season, returns to around his career mark of .293, it’s not a stretch to think that Napoli’s offensive production will rise above 2010’s .340 mark. And, even if it doesn’t, a .340 wOBA is fantastic for a catcher, even a bad defensive catcher.
That doesn’t mean there are not causes for concern, however. His BB% hit a career low of 8.2% last year. He’s always been a high strikeout kind of bat as well; Napoli struck out at a 30.2% clip last year, the third time in his career that he’s whiffed in more than 30% of his plate appearances. He also turned 30 last Halloween, so he’s not a young kid anymore. Napoli probably is what he is at this point.
Still, that doesn’t explain to me why a roughly 3 WAR catcher has had such little trade value in this offseason. He just got traded for a 1 WAR relief pitcher who is two years older than him. Where is the sense in that? Napoli was 4th in WAR among catchers last year, with only Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer and Brian McCann putting up better seasons.
Think about that. The fourth best catcher in the league was packaged in a deal for the worst contract in baseball, and then subsequently traded for a fairly good setup man. The move to Arlington will likely only make Napoli’s surface stats, and already impressive power numbers look even better. Unless all of us fans and bloggers are just crazy–which we’ve all been accused of at one time or another–the Rangers win this deal outright.