Mike Napoli frightens me.
Everything about him frightens me. When he comes up to bat against the Red Sox, I’m always frightened that he’s going to hit a ball into the last row of the upper deck and then throw his wad of chewing tobacco at the pitcher. I’m frightened when he makes eye contact with the camera. If I saw him in the streets, I’d turn and run the opposite way because I’d be frightened of being tackled, tied up and dragged back to whatever Chinese food carton-invested dungeon he calls home.
But most of all, I’m frightened that the Red Sox are going to sign him, and that fear doesn’t just stem from a a personal safety issue I’d have with knowing that he and I – and millions of Red Sox fans – are in the same general vicinity and could be clubbed to death at any time. No, I fear that the Sox are going to overpay for a player who has done almost nothing to warrant a substantial deal in free agency.
I fear that the team is going to repeat the vicious cycle of spending just to spend, just to make a splash, and then we’ll have to watch it all blow up again. I fear the Red Sox are going to outbid everybody for Napoli’s services and then be stuck with an overweight, out-of-place, mediocre player with no upside and a skillset that was never anything special to begin with. I fear that every team/GM who’s interested in Napoli now will be sending Ben Cherington Thank You cards in a few years.
The Red Sox should not sign mike Napoli for any length of time or for any substantial amount of money. It goes against everything that they hope to stand for after making the big August trade, and it doesn’t even make sense when you look at it from a pure numbers standpoint. He doesn’t fit here for anything more than two years and a few million dollars a year (which he won’t accept). But the word on the street is that the Sox have substantial interest in the big, bearded lug and that means they’ll have to shell out the big bucks to bring him here. Yikes.
Here’s the problem: people around here have an inflated view of Napoli’s talents because of how well he’s hit against the Red Sox over the past few years. I’m as guilty of it as anybody. My family and I refer to him as “George Herman Napoli” every time he comes to the plate because, it seems, more often than not he hits a ball that still hasn’t landed yet. We see a guy that crushes the Sox and think, “Okay, this guy would be perfect because he’s obviously good AND he won’t be able to hurt the Sox anymore.”
That makes sense on the surface, but look at Napoli’s numbers: He’s played only 19 career games at Fenway, and he’s hit .306 with seven home runs and 17 RBI. Good numbers, for sure, but they’re not exactly eye-popping. Plus, he’s only played those 19 games! Is that a realistic sample size to declare him the best Fenway hitter since Ted Williams?
Even just against the Sox, his numbers don’t jump off the screen like you think they should. He’s hit .288 with 15 home runs and 33 RBI in 38 games. Again, really good numbers, but it’s not as if he’s hits a home run every time he comes up to bat against the Sox (and besides, the Red Sox have been a horrible pitching team over the past few years anyway). He’s just had some good games against the Sox in his life – nothing more, and nothing less. If you want to crown his ass, then crown him. But I think that’s letting him off the hook.
Napoli has had one really, really good season in his career. In 2011, with the Rangers, he hit .320 with 25 home runs and 75 RBI. His OPS was 1.046, and his WAR was 5.3. Those are all awesome stats. There isn’t really any way to sugarcoat that he had an awesome season…except for one way. He played 113 games. That’s it.
Everybody loves to talk about what a monster season Napoli had in 2011, and he did. But he didn’t do it over a full season, and he never has. In fact, he’s never even come close to being a productive Major League player for the duration of a season. Not. Even. Close.
Last season, he hit .227 with 24 home runs and 56 RBI in 108 games. His OPS was .812. His WAR was 1.4. For some reference, Eric Chavez had a WAR of 1.5, and so did some guy I’ve never heard of named Erik Kratz.
Those aren’t the kind of numbers I want for a guy that I’m going to have to pay, I don’t know, $60 million to.
Let’s go deeper. He’s played more than 100 games just four times in his eight-year career, and only once has he played more than 140. In 2010, he played career-high 140 games and had a career-low OPS of .784. That’s the stuff franchise players are made of, right there…
He’s never walked more than 58 times in any season. He’s a career .259 hitter, and that’s extremely inflated because of that one year when he hit .320 (nobody, apparently, brings up the possibility that this random year when he hit 65 points higher than his career average could be steroid-induced. Seems odd to me, but what the hell do I know). He’s 31 years old, he’s overweight, and his power numbers aren’t even anything spectacular, which seems to be what everybody wants to talk about. He’s hit over 30 home runs just once, over 25 just twice. He’s got a great home run to at-bat ratio, but what difference does that make when he barely plays over 100 games?
It just doesn’t make sense, no matter how you look at it. Yes, he’s hit 54 home runs the past two seasons, and that’s nice, but let’s not make it seem like that gives him a first class ticket to Cooperstown. He’s made one all-star team, and that was last year – when he had the worst batting average of his career.
I should also mention that he’s a bad defensive catcher (and he would be signing with a Red Sox team that has three catchers already, two of which are almost definites to be on the Major League roster – Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway), and he’s only made about $21 million in his career, which means that he’s looking to break the bank with his first venture into free agency as a hot commodity. With an inflated value already attached to him because teams are attracted to his power potential, and because the free agent pool is so thin, this is his chance. If the Sox are going to sign him, they’re going to pay a lot of money to bring him him.
The Red Sox told us it was going to be different this time around. They said they weren’t going to take the big risks with long-term deals, that they weren’t going to overpay for big names who were bad fits. Well Mike Napoli is a risk in every sense of the word, and he’s a bad fit. He’s essentially a No. 6 hitter looking for No. 3 hitter money, and the Sox are a team without any real middle of the order threat. They’re desperate.
The Sox have only $68.2375 million on the books for this season, and if they want to be one of the highest-spending teams in the league (which they do) then they have to dish out the money somewhere. All the pieces are lined up for the Sox to make a terrible decision again, and then regret it by this time next season.
They want Napoli, Napoli wants money, the Red Sox have money. It’s a good fit in that regard. It’s a horrible fit every other way.