Analysis

Free Agent Pass or Play: Mike Napoli

We are officially in CRUNCH TIME – about 38 hours until the start of Free Agency at 12:01 AM November 5. We at Phillies Nation will take a look at a player who will be able to sign with any team at that time. We will explore potential performance, fit, cost, and feasibility. We continue today with right-handed first baseman Mike Napoli. And a reminder: you can check out all the “Pass or Play” posts by clicking on the category hyperlink.

Performance

Napoli joined the Red Sox in 2013 as sort of a “buy-low” free agent on a one-year deal, coming off an All-Star season with Texas, an honor likely bestowed upon him for his breakout 2011 season instead of what he actually accomplished in 2012. Napoli inked a one-year, $13 million deal with Boston to become their first baseman, posting a .259/.360/.482 line with 23 HR, a line pretty comparable to his career line (.259/.357/.502). The Sox got the player they should have been expecting and the season concluded with a World Series win. And if last night was any indication, Napoli will be drinking for free in Boston for the rest of his life.

Fit

Napoli, now 32, started 72 games as a catcher for the Texas Rangers in 2012 but was Boston’s full-time first baseman in 2013, starting 131 games. With an AAV of $25 million headed to first base already in Ryan Howard, it would be unlikely that the Phils would consider bringing in Napoli to play first. At age 32, it is very unlikely that he will ever be put behind the plate again, especially when as recently as 2011, his net output was good in spite of horrible defense behind the plate. There is almost zero chance the Phillies could bring in Napoli as a catcher. Sorry, folks.

Cost

FanGraphs’ awesome crowd sourcing project projects Napoli to receive a deal of around $13 million a year for about three years. This seems a little high. Yet, the Sox were rewarded with about $19.8 million in value for Napoli’s play in 2013 on a $13 million contract. I think a team will be able to net him for around $13 million a year for two years.

Feasibility

The Phillies could sign Napoli, but I truly doubt they would. Despite the crystal clear fact that Napoli is a better offensive and defensive first baseman than Howard at this point in their careers, the Phillies couldn’t possibly tie up about $38 million a year for at least two years at first base. As awesome as Napoli’s slash against lefties is (.276/.380/.528), the Phillies would be better not overpaying again for first base even if they had some idea that Howard could miss time in 2014.

Verdict: Pass, but…

Follow Napoli closely. Napoli signed relatively late into the free agent game last year (January 22) and I would bet that will happen again. Napoli is a valuable Major League player that has many holes that are covered up strikingly well by his offensive production. He will get over $10 million a year and may even get a second year. If he is still hanging around by January, looking for a deal, and the Phils think Howard won’t be in full health for 2014, keep his agent’s number around.

 

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Cs

    November 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    So this is the “Bourn” situation again? If he’s still around late and the price is right. I heard people talk as if he was going to catch again but like you said I doubt it.

  2. mick

    November 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I say take advantage that napoli is a FA, Eat dome of his contract and offer Ryan Howard to the redsox put Mayberry at first and score big in bull pen and outfield

  3. CS

    November 3, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Why in the world would the red sox, or anyone want Ryan Howard? Fan base understand
    1.Ryan Howard is stuck
    2.Stanton isn’t being traded

    • George

      November 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      That question, “Why in the world would the red sox, or anyone want Ryan Howard?”
      is true, but I’ll add another one: Why in the world would the Phils want Mayberry at first?

      • Hogey's Role

        November 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm

        Agree with george

  4. Lefty

    November 3, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    To make a stronger point about one thing in the posting.
    There is ABSOLUTELY zero chance Napoli will play catcher next regular season. As much as he likely wanted to play, (and the Red Sox wanted him to play) in the bleeping World Series with three games at St Louis with no DH, and he wouldn’t/ or just plain couldn’t play catcher to get in those games, there is no chance whatsoever.

    He’s a good hitter, but we have a first baseman signed to a big deal for at least three more years. They don’t need another Jim Thome 2012 situation. Please, Big Pass.

  5. Joe

    November 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Napoli a better offensive player than howard? Absolutely 100 percent false and its not even close, howard puts up napoli numbers while injured therefore I take that paragraph as a joke not as a professional observation.

    • Joe

      November 3, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      Bring the stats pal. War is an overrated statistic. I give you that napoli is better defensively than Howard but so is a duck with an oven mit. Napoli could never hit over 20 hrs and drive in 90 on one leg nor is napoli someone that makes a pitcher start thinking about who he should pitch to and pitch around. Your talking bout WAR in talking about the WOW factor which napoli has none of other than wow how lucky this guy is to have been put in such a great situation on a great team in a great lineup. Howard would have driven in atleast 110 rbis in that lineup even with only one leg. Howard is an rbi machine and he’ll prove that again this year guaranteed!

      • Hogey's Role

        November 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm

        Guaranteed huh?? Wow

        I’ll have two of whatever this guy is having!!

        • schmenkman

          November 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

          I think he’s right in that IF Howard gets healthy (granted, big if), 35-110 is well within the realm of possibility.

        • Ian Riccaboni

          November 3, 2013 at 3:05 pm

          And please consider that if I wanted to be really cheap, I could have done a three-year sample:

          2011 through 2013

          Napoli: (.268/.371/.523 in 1427 PA, 77 HR, 223 RBI, .895 OPS, 138 OPS+), 11.3 fWAR
          Howard: (.248/.327/.467 in 1253 PA, 58 HR, 215 RBI, .794 OPS , 115 OPS+), 0.8 fWAR

          But I didn’t do it because I didn’t want you to accuse me of shenanigans. If you look at their plate appearances, however, Napoli and Howard have played relatively the same amount of time over the last three years and Napoli has him beat in every category.

      • Ian Riccaboni

        November 3, 2013 at 2:57 pm

        “The WOW Factor” – Analyzing Baseball by Storage Wars Darryl Sheets!

        Anyhow, if anyone was serendipitous, it was Howard – Howard had Rollins, Utley, Rowand, Polanco, Werth, etc. at any given time in front of him. But let’s ignore that for a second and get back to the facts.

        Career FanGraphs WAR:

        Napoli: 23.1 (3231 PA)
        Howard: 20.4 (5018 PA)

        According to FanGraphs, Napoli was almost twice as effective per plate appearance over his career in creating runs. Now, there are flaws to this: Napoli’s performance was absolutely more valuable because he was being compared, for most of his career because he was being compared to other catchers and they are less likely to put up comparable numbers.

        Let’s take a look, then at the raw numbers. Napoli first became a regular in 2009 with the Angles so we’ll use that as a jumping off point:

        Napoli: .262/.355/.505, .861 OPS
        Howard: .264/.342/.505, .847

        Napoli got on base at a slightly-higher rate than Howard over the course of the last five seasons, had a higher OPS, OPS+, a higher wRC+, and was more valuable on the bases and defensively.

        In fact, Napoli has produced the sixth most value at first base since 2009, while Howard has been 25th: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=1b&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2009&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

        If you want to play the injury card, that is fine, too: Napoli is batting through a hip condition that his limited his playing time and power, but he still has the exact same slugging percentage as Howard in about the same number of plate appearances over the last five years.

        There’s all of the other stuff I don’t buy into but may be important to some: Napoli has been an All-Star more recently, has appeared in more World Series, and has won more World Series than Howard since 2009, also.

        The truth is, just about every Major League regular at first base could be some sort of upgrade over Ryan Howard at this point at first base. There are still a number of injury concerns with Howard and he hasn’t been an All-Star-caliber player since 2010, but some would argue 2007. Since 2010, the Phillies are ranked 27th in production from first base – just 22nd between 2010 and 2011, two years Howard was still healthy. Anybody who is healthy and getting on base at a .340+ clip and slugging near .500 is an automatic upgrade at first over Howard in my opinion.

        • Hogey's Role

          November 3, 2013 at 3:05 pm

          Boom 2 points Ian…
          That just happened!! Lol

  6. George

    November 3, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I agree with Lefty. Napoli is not a catcher, 1st base is pretty well clogged up with Howard, and in the bargain, Napoli has a hip condition which could ruin his career at any time.

  7. Double Trouble Del

    November 3, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Although not mentioned in the article, Napoli does suffer from a degenerative hip condition which cost him additional years with the Red Sox. Just a tidbit to keep in mind when assessing a potential offer.

  8. J.L.

    November 4, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I hope Howard crushes it and proves everyone wrong that he’s just a dh now.

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