Rangers acquire Napoli in deal for Francisco
First baseman/catcher adds versatility in return to AL West
Depth and versatility fueled the Rangers' latest offseason move Tuesday, when the club acquired Mike Napoli from the Blue Jays in exchange for right-handed pitcher Frank Francisco and cash considerations.
The 29-year-old Napoli, who boasts experience at catcher and first base, joins his third team this month, as he was initially sent to Toronto along with outfielder Juan Rivera from the Angels for outfielder Vernon Wells on Friday.
"It's been a crazy couple days here," Napoli said on a conference call, "but I'm happy with what happened and glad to be a Texas Ranger."
The feeling is overwhelmingly mutual, as Napoli lends general manager Jon Daniels and Co. a large dose of flexibility when creating the 2011 lineup. Daniels said Napoli will see time not only at catcher and first base but at designated hitter when veteran Michael Young is playing the field or in need of a day off.
"I think he complements what we're doing pretty well, as a guy that can catch, play first base, a power right-handed bat that complements the lineup and gives [manager Ron Washington] a lot of versatility," Daniels said. "From competing against him, we know he's a big-time competitor, plays hard, plays to win and fits in with what we're trying to do."
Napoli completed his fifth season with the Angels, hitting .238 with a team-leading 26 home runs, along with 68 RBIs, in 140 games. He set career bests for not only games, homers and RBIs but at-bats (453), hits (108) and doubles (24) and also led the Halos in slugging percentage (.468) while batting a team-best .305 against left-handed pitching.
It marked a season of change for Napoli, who started 70 games at first base and 66 at catcher after appearing exclusively behind the plate in his first four seasons. He became the club's primary first baseman after Kendry Morales exited May 29 with a season-ending injury, and that adaptable nature is what Daniels has liked much longer than a few days.
The Rangers GM noted he previously checked in with the Angels on Napoli, who ultimately represented the perfect trade bait for a Toronto team with heavy interest in Francisco. The right-handed reliever was 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA and two saves in 56 appearances for the Rangers in 2010. He opened the season as Texas' closer but spent most of the year in a setup role behind American League Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz and ultimately missed the final five weeks of the regular season and the entire postseason with a strain in his right rib cage.
Without Francisco in the bullpen, the Rangers still have Feliz, Alexi Ogando, Darren O'Day, Arthur Rhodes and Mark Lowe -- all names that leave Daniels with plenty of confidence. Tuesday's move doesn't rule out Feliz's possible move to the rotation, he added, as that decision will come at another time.
"Obviously, anytime you trade a contributing big league piece there's going to be some risk involved, but as we looked at it, we've got five or six quality, high-end winning pieces that are established in the big leagues and probably an equal number of guys we feel have the chance to do the same thing and put themselves in that position," Daniels said. "We were dealing from strength to add a guy we liked a lot over the years and haven't been able to get in the past."
Napoli owns a career average of .251 with 92 homers and 249 RBI in 506 games spanning five seasons, all with the Angels. His 75 career homers as a catcher are the most ever for an Angels catcher, and his .485 career slugging percentage is sixth best in club history.
That power won't directly affect Young's DH role, Daniels assured. Nor will it take away playing time from Mitch Moreland, so long as he performs. The 25-year-old Moreland, called up from Triple-A on July 29, hit .255 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 games as the Rangers' first baseman. He was even better in the postseason, hitting .348 (16-for-46) with one home run and seven RBIs. He was 6-for-13 in the World Series and stands as the team's starting first baseman going into camp.
"That's certainly our expectation," Daniels said. "It's Mitch's job to lose. We love what he brings to the club. He fits what we're trying to do. I think Mike complements him. One of the things we really like when putting this club together is the versatility. What we're trying to do is put together a flexible roster to where if you have an injury or something happens along the way, you're not boxed. It gives Wash options."
Napoli gives Washington a third option behind the plate, where Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor are set to also share duties. It's far too early, though, to start mapping out who plays on which day, Daniels said.
"This isn't about figuring in January who is going to get how many at-bats," he said. "This is a winning player and a winning piece to the puzzle. We got a taste of the World Series last year. We want to get back, and we think this gives us the chance to do that."
The arbitration-eligible Napoli, who is no stranger to the AL West, believes in those very chances. Fresh off a cruise from which he had to exit early to take a physical in Tampa Bay, he didn't hide any feelings that come along with the possibility of aiding the 2011 Rangers back to the postseason.
"I know the division well," he said. "The lineup they have and the type of players they have, it's exciting. Hopefully I'll be getting a lot of playing time and try to help them win."