Griffin: Napoli the Rangers new Mr. October a Jay for 90 hours
Just as Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos was finishing up his conference call on Tuesday explaining the club's amended policy barring parallel moves, the one designed specifically to keep the Red Sox from poaching on their manager John Farrell, a radio reporter from Montreal asked if he could answer a question in French.
The important question was not about Farrell or the Red Sox, instead it was about how on earth the Jays could have had the Rangers' Mr. October, the star of the 2011 World Series, and traded him four days later for Frank Francisco. It's the same question in any language.
Mike Napoli, 30, has batted .308 in the World Series with two homers and nine RBIs and has been the star of the last two victories with a three-run homer against Mitchell Boggs and a two-run double off Marc Rzepczynski. In addition, he threw out Allen Craig stealing in the ninth inning of Game 5 and has played a major role in every post-season game.
And this guy was a Blue Jay for 90 hours when he came over from the Angels with outfielder Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells. On Jan. 25 he was dealt to the Rangers for their setup man and the Jays' next closer, Frank Francisco. Why didn't they keep Napoli?
Here's an educated guess as to what Anthopoulos was actually thinking as he spoke to Angels GM Tony Reagins on that fateful January night.
"Hmm. I really need to get rid of Vernon's contract cuz I need that money to sign Jose Bautista, but now Tony wants me to take on two contracts that I don't want. Let's see, Napoli's making $5.8 million and Rivera is making $5.25 million. Well, I'm sure I can turn one or both of those guys around to teams that think they are contenders.
"I signed Edwin Encarnacion for a pretty good contract at $2.5 million with a $3.5 million option for 2012 and I already told him he'll get his 500 at-bats and that he's not going to ever play third base again. That only leaves a chance for Edwin at DH and first base, the same positions Napoli plays. And Napoli's making $5.8 million. So Edwin's a better deal.
"I also kind of committed to J.P. Arencibia as catcher after Rod Barajas blew me off in December and signed with the Dodgers. And I got Jose Molina as a backup and he's pretty good at what he does and way cheaper. I better find my best deal for Napoli because he's not going to see that much playing time here. We're not ready to win and that's a lot of money to be paying for a backup catcher, backup first baseman, platoon DH."
Now, nine months later, clearly also the gestation time of fan angst, Alex and Jays' ownership and supporters must watch as every night the Rangers race out to swarm their former Jay-for-four-days World Series star.
But it's not like even the Rangers knew what they had in Napoli during the regular season. Over 162 games of the AL West winning season, Napoli started 57 games behind the plate, 27 at first base and 18 as the DH. That's 60 games that he began on the bench.
However when he did play, he produced and his catching skills and leadership were far more advanced than when he played with the Angels. Over there he was considered the offensive side of the catching coin, with Jeff Mathis being the better defender.
Offensively in the regular season, he hit .320 in 369 at-bats, with 30 homers, 75 RBIs and a 1.046 OPS. It was a breakout year and a dream post-season for a team that was poised to take advantage of Napoli's experience and skill set.
As far as the Jays are concerned, Napoli was not the right player or the right contract for where they stood. Anthopoulos did use the money from Wells to invest in Bautista, Arencibia showed what he could do as the everyday catcher, Edwin Encarnacion had an acceptable, sometimes frustrating season and is a viable option to come back on his reasonable option-year contract, Adam Lind was somewhat of a disappointment as an offensive first baseman but now realizes that he needs to be in better core shape and Francisco might have had better numbers as a closer if manager John Farrell had known as much about handling his bullpen at the beginning of the year as he knew at the end. He admitted that the bullpen was his most difficult adjustment as manager.
Yes, Napoli is shining in the post-season for the Rangers, but this is a different result than if had remained in a Jays uniform. He would not be there. Fans, relax and enjoy the spectacle of one of the most interesting and competitive World Series in years.
Napolis would not have been a 10-win difference if he had remained and that's the number they would have needed to compete for the wild card.