I think it is fair to say that while we here at Lookout Landing have found individual moves by the Dipoto front office objectionable, there has been an overall sense that deals are being made with good intent: extend the current window with small upgrades and buy-low options, without mortgaging the future on a flawed roster that probably isn’t one piece away from being a definite championship contender. One consistent rumor, however, both before and after the trades of this offseason, has gone from a reasonable interest to an unnecessary expense.
Signing Mike Napoli would be a serious departure from the path Dipoto has followed, evoking Hansel and Gretel more than Robert Frost. The Mariners should not sign Mike Napoli right now.
It’s not that Napoli is a bad player. He isn’t. He had a 113 wRC+ last year, hit 34 home runs, had a 12.1% BB% and had an OBP nearly 100 points higher than his batting average. He is a passionate veteran that was one of the leaders for a Cleveland team that came within one game of winning the World Series.
The Mariners should not sign him right now.
After putting up above average defensive numbers at first for several years, the 35 year old Napoli took a turn for the worse in 2016. He played 98 games at 1B and 51 as a DH, playing defense that was somewhere between identical to and worse than the combination of Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee (very bad). He runs the bases like a 35-year-old who played catcher for much of his life, which, well, he did. In the last three years combined he has been worth 4.1 fWAR. Nelson Cruz was worth 4.2 WAR last year alone. Seriously, look, it’s right there.
I wouldn’t lie to y’all. The difference between 4.1 and 4.2 wins is within the margin of error. The difference between three years and one year is not. Banking on Napoli to have a Cruz-like resurgence from ages 36-38 or beyond is foolish, especially from a player whose injury history is far from clean.
If the Mariners signed him, they would presumably split his time between 1B and DH like he did last year. It is important to have depth at every position. This, however, would be like a person on a budget looking through their fridge trying to decide how to make their supplies last and deciding to make a Dagwood-style sandwich for a midnight snack with their remaining deli meat and bread. Tastes great and fills up the hole in the stomach real well right now, but enjoy peanut butter and crackers for lunch the rest of the week. The Mariners are flush with 1B/DH capable options. Danny Valencia, Dan Vogelbach, and Richie Shaffer have all played first base at the MLB level, and can obviously DH as well. Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith will likely see plenty of work at DH, and could both likely handle 1B fine if the team decided to have them work on it a bit this offseason. Carlos Ruiz has hit lefties well his whole career, and could DH in a pinch.
What none of those people can do is play SS, or pitch, or play outfield particularly well for an entire year. Signing Napoli, to me, would indicate a more serious intention to trade Nelson Cruz, or play Valencia and Smith more frequently in the outfield, neither of which are particularly appealing options. Even if a Cruz trade interests you, doing so while all your trade partners know you have a severe logjam at the position puts you at a disadvantage in any negotiation.
The money and the emphasis needs to go elsewhere. Kendrys Morales is a 33 year old player with a worse record of consistency and a very comparable physical and statistical profile to Napoli. Here are their 2016 lines.
He just received three years for $33 million from Toronto. Napoli was not extended a qualifying offer, meaning he would not cost a compensatory pick, which is good for the team who signs him. There appear to be many interested parties as a result, however, and he has been linked, either casually or seriously, to around 10 different teams, as you can see below.
Edwin Encarnacion reportedly has been offered a four year deal worth $80 million by Toronto as well. Encarnacion has been a significantly better player, and Napoli’s deal should be closer to what Morales received. Even that deal, however, is not worth a third to half of what we can estimate the Mariners’ remaining capital to be, based on interviews with ownership and the front office.
I’m alright with overpaying for talent sometimes, especially when no alternative is available. This is not one of those times. Let Napoli find his new city somewhere far from Safeco Field.