It’s a new year, and January has recently been one of the more busy months in Brian Cashman’s tenure as Yankees GM. Last year, the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda swap was completed and Hiroki Kuroda was signed. In 2011, Rafael Soriano was the big name acquired. Roster construction for the 2013 squad certainly isn’t complete, but will January (or even February) bring any substantial newcomers? With the way the offseason has progressed thus far, it seems unlikely. However, a new opportunity could be developing.
With negotiations between Mike Napoli and the Red Sox seemingly on thin ice, now is the time for the Yankees to swoop in. Napoli had agreed to a 3-year, $39M contract with Boston in early December, but his physical results have caused Boston to second guess completing the deal. Now, rumors link Boston to Adam LaRoche. If a deal between those two parties is reached, Napoli would be back on the open market. Reports indicate that Boston is reluctant to sacrifice a draft pick to sign LaRoche, but if a deal goes down, I’d be shocked if Cashman didn’t inquire upon Napoli.Should Boston officially back out on Napoli, it would be a huge red flag regarding the catcher/first baseman/designated hitter’s health. However, therein lies the opportunity. A one-year “make good” contract might be attractive to Napoli in order to prove himself healthy, and allow him to hit the market again after the season. Financially, it works for the Yankees’ too: cost certainty for the 2014 austerity budget wouldn’t be affected.
Signing Napoli wouldn’t fill the catching void left by Russell Martin. He’s only played 72, 61, and 66 games at catcher in each of the last three seasons. Plus, he’s poorly regarded defensively at the position. As we already know, the organization values defense behind the plate, so Napoli would probably play even less catcher than he has the past three seasons. His best fit with the Yanks is as a DH. At this point, the Yankees’ have nobody to DH on opening day, and while it may be Alex Rodriguez‘ role when he returns, his health is also a major question mark. Napoli missed over 30 games last season because of a left thigh injury, which apparently is what worries Boston. Perhaps making Napoli the primary DH, with occasional time behind the plate, would be the best recipe for a healthy 2013.
If signed, Napoli would add a big right-handed bopper to the lineup, something the team needs as presently constituted. With a career .248 ISO, .507 SLG%, and .371 wOBA, Napoli would fit in quite well behind the likes of Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. He also mashes lefties: a 141 wRC+ in his career. As an added benefit, he hits righties well above average to a tune of a 124 wRC+. He’s patient, posting BB% of 13.4% each of the last two seasons. While he’s not as good as his monster 2011 (177 wRC+ inflated by a .344 BABIP), he’s undeniably a dangerous hitter. For what it’s worth, our Marcel template (discussed here) projects Napoli to hit .262/.352/.500, or a .365 wOBA. Furthermore, for those interested in his counting stats: 24 home runs and 63 RBIs in 449 PAs. That kind of performance, while probably a bit buoyant considering the notoriously optimistic Bill James projecting a .359 wOBA, would be more than welcome.
The real downside is the amount Napoli whiffs (25.4% career), plus his health and defensive skills discussed above. Unless something is seriously wrong with his thigh (which is possible), a one-year deal could prove to be a huge reward. The Yankees are getting burned by division counterparts (primarily Toronto) and a mass free agent exodus (Martin, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez) this offseason, and need to explore all options to compete.
It’s already been reported that one other team has contacted Napoli, but there’s always a chance that it’s a ploy from the Napoli side to pressure Boston. Manager John Farrell has indicated that resolving the issue with Napoli as a top priority, so all signs still point to a deal getting done eventually. Nonetheless, should things ultimately fall through between the Red Sox and Napoli, a one-year deal is something the Yanks must investigate.