Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Mike Napoli, unhappy with his playing time so far this year, requested a meeting with skipper Mike Scioscia. Napoli was the Angels' primary catcher last season, starting 84 games behind the plate (to Jeff Mathis' 78) and another 16 games at designated hitter. So far in 2010, Mathis has started seven of the Angels' ten contests.
"I don't like coming in here and not seeing my name in the lineup," said Napoli. "I'm a competitor. I want to be on the field. I don't feel like a player who should be in the lineup for only two of nine games. I feel like I should be a starter."
Napoli has provided impressive offensive production over the past two seasons, hitting .273/.359/.527 combined in 2008 and 2009, slugging 20 homers each year. Mathis' numbers with the bat have been considerably less impressive (.202/.281/.313), but Scioscia, a former backstop himself, values Mathis' defensive ability: "First and foremost, we need that defensive presence behind the plate. Jeff is getting more playing time because he's playing at a very high level on defense."
Ten games into the season, it's too early to jump to any conclusions about the Angels' catching situation, but supposing Scioscia continues to divide the playing time as he has so far, the team could have some flexibility. Each player has two more years of arbitration eligibility, but Mathis is more affordable than Napoli, earning $1.3MM in 2010 to Napoli's $3.6MM. One would think the Angels might entertain the idea of shopping their second catcher, who is not only more expensive, but also publicly frustrated with his playing time.
That's not to say the 28-year-old Napoli is likely to be dealt. Having his bat on their bench is a luxury the Angels can afford, and when Mathis (.333/.346/.458 this year) cools off, Napoli should earn a few more at-bats. However, as long as Napoli is sitting more often than he's starting, teams will take notice. There are plenty of less defensive-minded clubs who'd love to acquire a catcher that doesn't hit free agency for two more years and outslugged Victor Martinez and Brian McCann last season.
How would you handle your two backstops if you were the Angels? Should Napoli be playing more often, or is Mathis' defense strong enough to make up for his lesser offense? Which clubs could you see inquiring about Napoli's availability?