The Return of Mike Napoli
I remember where I was when I heard the news. I was at work, in the service elevator, passing the time between floors by checking Twitter. I started seeing the Tweets…
“Bringing back the gang…”
“A platoon makes sense…”
“He’s killing lefty pitching…”
My eyes widened. There were emotions welling up inside of me as I realized that the once-catcher who should have been the 2011 World Series MVP was on his way back. I went to all of the beat writers’ handles – Grant, Sullivan, Andro, Stevenson – from Texas; Edes, Lee, Cafardo – from Boston – and verified the news seven times over. I let out a jubilant yell in the elevator (which I was riding by myself, so I didn’t feel weird about it), reversed its course and headed back down to tell the nearest baseball fan I knew. He let out a long and enthusiastic “WHOOOOO!” which nobody understood because nobody else loved baseball as much as we loved baseball. I texted Danny, my podcast partner, who said it was the happiest day of his life (right up there next to getting married), and boldly proclaimed that the Texas Rangers were going to the playoffs. Mike Napoli is his favorite Ranger. He was one of mine. I texted my father. He asked what we gave up.
I texted back, “CASH.” At the time, it sounded like a steal. Here was “Dirtbag” Mike Napoli. “The Chef.” Na-Po-Li. Na-Po-Li. He of the phenomenal Eric Nadel call, “STRIKE ‘EM OUT, THROW ‘EM OUT, WHAT A PICK BY MIKE NAPOLI! WHAT ELSE CAN THAT MAN DO?!” He was coming back to where he had his glory…months. The site of his cult super stardom. Where he cemented his place as a…one-time All-Star, based off of the second half of a World Series season.
And Texas got him for cash (or a player to be named later…but equivalent to just cash). The Boston Red Sox, who enjoyed two amazing Mike Napoli years, giving him a World Series ring, had just offloaded an expensive first baseman, not for level two prospects, or level three prospects. A check.
This is not 2011 Mike Napoli.
The emotion was high when Texas re-acquired Napoli. Visions of three-run Jimmy-Jacks, picks at first base, clutch hits, and probably even a shirtless Dirtbag roaming the streets of Deep Ellum or Greenville after a World Series victory danced in fans’ heads. It’s been about a week since he rejoined the team.
While he got the “Na-Po-Li” chants everyone expected and the standing ovation as Chuck re-introduced him with the booming crescendo in his name, instead of the flatter tone used for visiting players, Napoli has been reduced to a bench player. He plays second fiddle to Mitch Moreland, the first baseman who is becoming the Mitch Moreland we all hoped he would be. Napoli, meanwhile, has his best years behind him.
His All-Star year, 2012, was based off of his accomplishments from 2011, a year in which he only played in 113 games, with a slash line of .320/.414/.631 with 30 HR and 75 RBI. His next best year came in his first year with the Red Sox – 139 games, .259/.360/.482, 23 HR and 92 RBI. Perhaps most indicative of his drop in performance has been his drop in walks. As a power-hitting righty, strikeouts were always going to be a given, but Napoli’s plate discipline was always a selling point for him. During his time with Texas, he exercised his greatest patience. Since then, his surgery to repair his sleep apnea has changed his vision at the plate and resulted in a greater K/BB rate. The changed vision has changed his timing at the plate as well, and pitches that he would normally make good contact on are resulting in swings and misses.
In short, Texas got what they paid for.
Don’t get me wrong, seeing number 25 on the back of a Rangers’ jersey with the name “Napoli” above it is an exciting sight. He has supplied us, as Rangers fans, with some of the best memories, not just in recent memory, but in Rangers’ history. He’s cemented his role as a fan favorite, and the Twitter nation will grow tired of the “Na-Po-Li” chants while still secretly hoping he rips one into the gap with two on base. Even when he was with Boston, we always thought of him as “our” Napoli. I think the risk was minimal in acquiring the 33-year old Floridian, and I support the reasoning behind it and the idea that this move is about this year.
I’m just cautioning the Rangers’ fanbase against expecting 2011 or 2013 Napoli to catapult this team to the Postseason.