Mike Napoli will start his third go-around with Texas
After a year away from the team, Mike Napoli has agreed to a one-year contract with the Texas Rangers, agreeing to return for his third stint with the team. Napoli, 35, finished 2016 leading the American League Champion Indians with a career and team-high 34 home runs and 101 runs batted in, both of which would have led the Rangers in 2016. Currently, terms of the deal are unknown, as the Rangers will wait until the start of spring training to make the terms official once they have greater flexibility on their 40-man roster with the ability to adjust their disabled list.
Despite serving as the team leader for the Indians and establishing career-high power numbers, Napoli’s free agent market was slow to develop, no doubt in part to his limitations to first base, as well as his .239 AVG and career-high 194 strikeouts in 2016. Napoli has twice spent time in Texas, having been traded by the Blue Jays to the Rangers in 2011, and again in 2015 by the Red Sox at the trade deadline. In his first tenure with the Rangers, from 2011-2012, Napoli made his first All-Star appearance, with arguably his best all-around season coming in 2011, when he helped the Rangers reach the World Series after hitting 30 HR, with 75 RBI and a career-high slash line of .320/.413/.631. In the 2011 World Series, Napoli would have been the likely series MVP had the Rangers won, hitting 2 HR, with 10 RBI, a .350 AVG, and 1.164 OPS in a losing effort. After spending 2013-2015 with the Red Sox and struggling in the first half of the 2015 season, Napoli helped rebuild is free agent value in the second half with Texas, hitting .295/.396/.513 in thirty-five games.
Once the contract is official, Napoli will assume the role of everyday first baseman for Rangers, while also seeing time as DH. Napoli will give the Rangers, even more, power, with three projected regulars having hit 30 home runs in 2016 (Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor) with two others having hit twenty home runs. (Jonathan Lucroy and Nomar Mazarra) Additionally, Napoli will help offset the loss of free agents Carlos Beltran and Ian Desmond, both of who were plus bats in 2016.
With Napoli now on the Rangers, the question now becomes what to do with the duo of former prospects Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo. With Ryan Rua’s roster spot likely safe due to his production and versatility, having played all three outfield spots and both corner infield spots, along with the spot of Delino DeShields due to his plus speed and defense, it is time to begin to wonder if the Rangers will part ways with either of their former top prospects. Despite being ranked by some outlets as the number one prospect in all of baseball in 2012, Profar struggled in 2013, hitting .234 before missing all of 2014 and 2015 with injuries. In 90 games in 2016, Profar hit .239 with a .660 OPS, both well below the average for an everyday major leaguer. In Gallo’s case, his calling card has always been his power, which allowed him to become a top ten prospect in both 2014 and 2015. However, Gallo has consistently struggled with his plate discipline, striking out 76 times in 133 career at-bats, a 57% mark. Aside form Gallo and Profar, Josh Hamilton was signed to a minor league deal by the Rangers this offseason, adding yet another competitor for what could ultimately only be one bench spot.
Prior to the Napoli signing, the Rangers lone weakness was first base, as they were relying on some combination of Rua, Profar, and Gallo to give them everyday at-bats at the position. Now, with Napoli at first, along with All-Stars Jonathan Lucroy, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, and Carlos Gomez, as well as All-Star caliber players in Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor, and Nomar Mazara, the Rangers boast arguably the deepest lineup in all of baseball, which should serve them well as they look to claim their third straight AL West Championship.