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Tampa Bay Rays Free Agent Target: Mike Napoli

By Mat Germain
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The Tampa Bay Rays made a significant deal this off season only to watch the Red Sox add two tremendous pitchers. It’s time they return fire by improving their lineup with someone they can afford to sign and won’t cost them a draft pick


Free agent 1B Mike Napoli isn’t a young man anymore. The Hollywood Florida native recently turned 34 and isn’t likely to be looking for a long-term. He’s made a ton of money over his career, but isn’t projected to sign for a high amount this offseason. Napoli didn’t make the Top 50 free agent list MLBTR put out. For the record, that list was 100% correct on the salary required to sign David Price, and very close for the J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada deals in terms of annual value.

The same list predicted for the #50 player, Rich Hill, would make $5 million, and he signed in Oakland of $6 million. So does that mean they expect Mike Napoli to sign for a lesser annual value? It’s possible. And at that price, the Rays should be players for his services. Here’s why.

Napoli’s 2015 Stats

Napoli’s Dominance vs LHP

Assuming the Rays can sign Napoli for 1 or 2 seasons at $5-7 million, they’d be getting the perfect fit for their lineup. Although you can look at the stats above as up-and-down, I’d like to point out that he managed the following against LHP: .278/.391/.563 with 12 HR.

As a team, the 2015 Rays managed .260/.324/.435 against LHP with only 59 HR. Adding Napoli would significantly increase the team’s effectiveness against LHP, particularly when paired with Evan Longoria‘s .342/.392/.568 and 8 HRs vs LHP.

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When paired with the current likely DH,

Logan Morrison

, who hit

.241/.323/.444

with

17

HR vs RHP, you get a very good balance within the lineup. Getting 29 HR with great lines at DH would be impressive. If he splits time with Loney at 1B, it’s even better since Loney hit

.296/.341/.372

against RHP but only managed

.226/.258/.310

against LHP.

The point is that both Morrison and Loney are deficient vs LHP and the Rays will need to address that in some way. And don’t both looking Richie Shaffer‘s way since it’s more severe in his case. That brings me to my next point.

What about Shaffer?

Aug 9, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays designator hitter Richie Shaffer (36) is congratulated by left fielder Brandon Guyer (5) after hitting a solo home run during the seventh inning against the New York Mets at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Mets 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If we bring in Napoli, most Tampa Bay Rays fans will wonder what happens to Richie Shaffer. The way I see it, he should split time with Loney at 1B until the Rays find the deal they want to move Loney along (something we’ll look into further soon). Essentially, with his effectiveness vs both LHP and RHP, 1B should be going to Shaffer as soon as Loney is dealt.

Also, when you take a close look at LF, you’ll notice that Desmond Jennings hasn’t exactly been a picture of health and isn’t great against RHP (.250/.313/.333 in 2015). Having both Mikie Mahtook and Shaffer waiting to jump in should those health issues continue isn’t a bad thing, it’s a bonus.

And finally, sitting next to a playing with a 1B that has 4200 PA and a ton of time behind the plate isn’t a bad thing for Shaffer. If he’s going to learn the ropes, that’s a very experienced guy to learn from, something that could help Shaffer reach the next level.

Stellar Defensive Play

Looking at him, Napoli doesn’t look like a swift footed stellar defensive first baseman, but he is. This article from Fangraphs points him out as a stellar defender, also noting Logan Morrison (-4) and James Loney (-3) as being “Iron Gloves“. It’s time the Rays got better at first base. Not only will it help get the players off the field more quickly by making outs more handily, but it’ll make pitchers better by giving them confidence in the team defensively.

WAR

Fangraphs projects him to add 1.4 WAR in 2016 based on 600 PA. They note that he’s averaged 2.3 WAR over his last 3 seasons with an average of 516 PA, and that it averages out to 2.7 WAR when pro-rated to 600 PA. In short, Napoli is going to be an above-average asset wherever he plays when we look at his WAR rating.

Playoff Experience

The final ingredient that makes Napoli interesting to me is his vast playoff experience. There’s something to be said for having been there, as the 2015 KC Royals will attest to. The first time they got to the World Series, they were often nervous and unprepared. In 2015, it was a different story.

Let’s assume glory for just 1 second, a time that sees the 2016 Rays reach the playoffs. How many guys on the team have vast playoff experience? And if so, how successful is it?

Mike Napoli has 145 AB in the playoffs, most recently with the Rangers in 2015. His .248/.351/.434 line attests to his performance over those games, and he was a real difference maker for the Rangers in 2011.

Competition

Getting Napoli to sign in Tampa Bay isn’t going to be an easy feat, and is probably unlikely at this point. However, the fit seems to be there, the finances seem to fit, and he could help bring some professionalism to the Rays at the plate that the team could have used at many points in 2015. Despite minimal playing time in Texas in 2015, he managed to chip in with a 1.0 WAR rating, and his .295/.396/.513 line to end the season in Texas leaves us wondering how well he may do in 2016.

Since he’s had most of his success in Texas, they seem like the biggest competition for his services. However, with Prince Fielder being health, Joey Gallo heading to LF, and Josh Hamilton being a likely DH along with Mitch Moreland, there’s not much room for Napoli in Texas. Boston, meanwhile, has Hanley Ramirez playing 1B – for now, and so they seem unlikely to bid for him.

The Blue Jays are full at 1B, but the Orioles could possibly make a bid for his services if they miss out on Chris Davis. However, they are the best fit for Davis, and with their acquisition of Mark Trumbo, acquiring both may take them out of the running for a guy like Napoli.

I’m not going to go through the entire American League, but based on what I can see, the Mariners and Astros may be the two teams that offer the biggest opportunities for Napoli. Whether or not they’re willing to make the investment remains to be seen.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Top 50 Prospects: #20 Justin Williams

With a move closer to his hometown, into a lineup that has real potential and needs his skill set badly, Napoli could find a fit in Tampa Bay. Whether or not he’s someone they are looking at bringing in is unknown, but there’s reason to hope that when all the chips fall he winds up a Rays DH, helping lead this team to a new level offensively speaking.

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