So far this offseason, we've seen the Seattle Mariners linked to Josh Hamilton, but we haven't heard about an active pursuit. We've also seen the Mariners linked to Nick Swisher, but we haven't heard about an active pursuit there, either. But Mike Napoli is just out of a two-year relationship in Texas, and he's single and looking to mingle. The Mariners? The Mariners are lonely and intrigued.
Let's trace this rumor all the way back to the beginning.
#mariners have reached out to russell martin & mike napoli. also looking at corner OF bats.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) November 9, 2012
Mike Napoli holding out for 4th year from Red Sox...meeting with Mariners who might be willing to give the extra year according to sources— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) November 22, 2012
If the Red Sox really are interested in signing free agent Mike Napoli, they appear to have competition from the Seattle Mariners.
According to an industry source, Napoli is scheduled to meet with the Mariners, who likely would utilize him primarily as a catcher.
#mariners are definitely on mike napoli. other teams in mix include red sox & rangers.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) November 23, 2012
So much of the rumor-mongering this time of year just smells like total speculative bullshit. Here there seems to be a little more substance, and while the Mariners might meet with any number of free agents in the coming weeks, this does look to be an indicator of interest. The Mariners will already be aware of what Mike Napoli is looking for, so it appears there's a willingness to meet him somewhere in that financial neighborhood. If Napoli were priced out of the Mariners' range, the Mariners probably wouldn't really bother.
So we should talk about the vitals. First of all, Napoli is newly 31 years old. He's been almost this age for a while, but now he's exactly this age, and he's getting older literally every minute of every day. He's rumored to want a four-year contract, and it wouldn't be a cheap one. He's rumored to prefer catching over DHing and playing first base. His seven years in the majors have been spent with the Angels and the Rangers, and, for a few days one January, the Blue Jays. He is very familiar within the AL West. I don't know if that is a factor or a complete non-factor.
Since Napoli broke in back in 2006, he's posted the same wRC+ as Travis Hafner, Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez. His numbers in 2012 were well down from his numbers in 2011, but his numbers in 2011 were mittens-on-dick insane, and he still drew his walks and hit for his power. In fact, 2012 Mike Napoli was more normal Mike Napoli. The Mike Napoli the season before probably isn't ever going to show his face again.
Napoli is not considered a good defensive catcher by anybody. This is the guy who was forced to split time with Jeff Mathis, and pitch-framing research doesn't hold him in high regard. He's not so much a catcher as he is a guy who's capable of catching. The whole first-base thing gives him some flexibility. Even if he wants to catch now, he probably won't be catching a whole hell of a lot longer.
There are, I think, two ways that people might respond to the Mike Napoli/Mariners rumor. They are:
(1) All right, the Mariners need some dingers!
(2) Napoli has those old-player skills. A four-year contract now would be a disaster -- he's going to break down.
As far as #1 is concerned, yes, Napoli would provide for the Mariners some thump. He is a power hitter who looks like a power hitter, and who whiffs like a power hitter. Even as Napoli ages, it's unlikely that he'll lose his ability to hit home runs often enough for it to be remembered that sometimes he hits home runs.
As far as #2 is concerned -- I'm guessing this is what would be the consensus response if the Mariners were to sign Napoli for four years. A 31-year-old catcher with an unathletic body who walks, strikes out, and goes deep? It just feels like Napoli doesn't have very long to go. Richie Sexson, remember, came apart at 32. Sexson and Napoli are not dissimilar hitters. I'm not going to deny that this is my most prominent feeling right now. I'm not in love with the idea of Napoli for four years. But maybe Napoli wouldn't require four years, and also, we have to remember about the uncertainty. When people criticize free-agent contracts, oftentimes they come off sounding overconfident. We don't know. We never know, and we think we know better because can identify "old-player skills," but that doesn't mean nearly as much as we wish. We are a species that absolutely sucks at telling the future, yet convinces itself over and over that it's able to tell the future.
Let's take something hypothetical. I don't know, four years, $50 million. Sure, whatever. Signing Napoli to that contract would carry X% odds of not working out well. It would have Y% odds of working out okay, and Z% odds of working out fantastically somehow. A lot of people would overestimate the magnitude of X. It's not that X isn't a good possibility. It's that X isn't the only good possibility.
And hey, all right, reason to be foolishly over-optimistic!
Left-hander Matt Harrison underwent Lasik eye surgery Thursday. Catcher Mike Napoli will do the same next week. Napoli is also headed toward free agency.
I don't know exactly how Napoli would fit with the Mariners. He doesn't need to be platooned, but I should hope that the Mariners wouldn't relegate John Jaso to the bench. I don't know where the Mariners stand, privately, on Justin Smoak, and I don't know who else the Mariners are looking to add to the offense. That would all become more clear over time. For now, here's a new Mariners rumor for you to overreact to. Black Friday seems like an appropriate day for general overreaction.