Mike Napoli Rumors

Red Sox Notes: Ellsbury, Napoli, Bullpen

In today's edition of his daily column, ESPN's Buster Olney reports (ESPN Insider required) some specifics on the two hard runs the Red Sox took at extending Jacoby Ellsbury. According to Olney, Boston offered Ellsbury an extension that fell just shy of $100MM following his runner-up finish in the 2011 AL MVP voting. Agent Scott Boras countered with a $130MM proposal, and the two sides weren't able to strike a deal. Last winter, the Sox again tried to extend Ellsbury, this time for something in the neighborhood of B.J. Upton's five-year, $75.25MM deal with the Braves (Ellsbury had a down season in 2012, hence the decreased offer).

Now, Ellsbury is primed to hit free agency, and reports have indicated that Boston may not go far beyond $100MM to retain him. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes opined recently that the question shouldn't be whether or not Ellsbury crosses the $100MM barrier, but rather whether or not he can reach $150MM. According to Olney, the Rangers and Mariners will be two of the most aggressive teams on the Ellsbury market this winter. Here's more on Ellsbury and the 2013 World Series Champion Red Sox…

  • Ellsbury spent the season's final month playing through a severe bone bruise in his left-hand and will undergo an MRI to provide further details, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
  • Mike Napoli feels that he's found a home in Boston and told reporters, including ESPNBoston.com's Tony Lee, that he hopes to return to the team in 2014 and beyond. Said Napoli: "I want to be here. I love this place… They've treated me so good here, the way they've taken care of me has been unbelievable. When the time comes I'm pretty sure we're going to have conversations." MLBTR's Tim Dierkes recently projected Napoli to earn three years and $42MM on the open market.
  • GM Ben Cherington deserves praise for the team's tremendous bullpen depth, as it became a key component to their World Series title, writes MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom. Bloom points out that Koji Uehara was fourth in line for closing opportunities to open the season, while Brandon Workman, who pitched the eighth inning in Game Six, opened the season at Double-A. Boston lost Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey and Andrew Miller to injury at various points in 2013.
  • Cherintgon talked with Tim Britton of the Providence Journal about his team's incredible clubhouse chemistry last night, stating that while there was no real way to predict how this group would come together, he definitely thinks it was a contributing factor to their success: "When you're around it and you feel it, it's hard to say it's not valuable. I don't know that any of us know how to engineer it. But when you're around it and you feel the group coming together the way it did, I don't have any doubt it's valuable. I still don't know how to predict it."

AL Notes: Napoli, Abreu, McClendon, Orioles

Figures such as John Farrell of the Red Sox and new Reds manager Bryan Price have altered the debate on whether pitching coaches make good managers, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe writes. Cafardo says names such as Greg Maddux and Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves could surface as candidates for openings in the future as pitching becomes a larger part of the game. Let's take a look at the latest from around the American League:

  • Within the same article, Cafardo quotes an anonymous general manager who says he expects a team to offer Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli a three-year contract. Boston would prefer to give Napoli a short-term deal, Cafardo says. However, they'll enter the offseason needing a first baseman after missing out on Jose Dariel Abreu.
  • The Indians were never close to offering Abreu a deal in the same range as the one he got from the White Sox, Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer writes in response to a reader question.
  • Jake Peavy took the hill in Game 3 tonight for the Red Sox, but as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald notes, he nearly became a Cardinal earlier this season. St. Louis was involved in talks with the White Sox at the deadline for Peavy, who was eventually shipped to Boston as part of a three-team trade. Peavy tells Lauber he's happy with the way things turned out.
  • Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon says he'll interview for the Mariners' manager job, MLive.com's Chris Iott writes. That confirms an earlier report by Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. McClendon has already interviewed for the Tigers' manager opening. 
  • The Orioles' No. 1 priority this winter will be improving the starting rotation, but Executive Vice President Dan Duquette won't make a big commitment in free agency or trade top prospects to do so, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports.

Red Sox Notes: Cherington, Breslow, Napoli, McGrath

In a WEEI appearance over the weekend, Red Sox owner John Henry talked about the team's overhaul and historic rebound from the AL East cellar to World Series participants. WEEI's Jackson Alexander has some of the highlights, including Henry's praise for GM Ben Cherington. Henry stated that the team knew for years that Cherington was going to be the next GM, but they had envisioned a scenario where Theo Epstein would be promoted to team president to continue the Epstein/Cherington pairing in Boston for many more years. Epstein is now president of the Cubs and likely hoping to experience a turnaround similar to that of his former club in the near future. Here's more on the Red Sox…

  • WEEI's Alex Speier points out the statistical similarities between Craig Breslow and Jeremy Affeldt from 2008-12, noting the sizable gap between Breslow's two-year, $6.25MM contract and Affeldt's three-year, $21MM contract. Despite the fact that Breslow's dominant 2013 season could have potentially earned him far more than his current contract calls for, the left-hander doesn't regret signing. Breslow tells Speier that the security of his two-year deal helped him to remain calm and not rush back from the shoulder injury that caused him to open the season on the DL. Breslow adds that he's grateful to the Red Sox for being the first team to guarantee him a contract for multiple years. As far as national attention from a strong postseason, Breslow says he's more concerned with receiving validation from his 24 teammates than the national media.
  • Mike Napoli tells MLB.com's Lindsay Berra that he will be more confident in contract negotiations with interest teams this winter now that he's played through a season with avascular necrosis (AVN) in his hips. Said Napoli: "They're always going to say, 'What if?' But what if I got hit in the hand or got hurt in some other way that had nothing to do with my hips? So many things can happen, but I don't feel like my hips are a problem."
  • Agent Josh Borkin of ACES tells MLBTR that Red Sox prospect Daniel McGrath has selected ACES as his representation. The Australian left-hander reached the short-season Class-A New York-Penn League in 2013 at just 19 years old and posted a 4.86 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 33 1/3 innings. McGrath signed with the Red Sox for $400K last summer.


AL Notes: Napoli, Tigers, Orioles, Ryan

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred testified, during the Alex Rodriguez arbitration hearing, baseball did not concern itself if Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch distributed illegal substances to minors and was only interested in possible criminal activity involving players. Today, Manfred called the report "ridiculous" telling Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his testimony was "totally out of context and mischaracterized" and accused the A-Rod camp of leaking the story. "The larger point is this: From our perspective, one of the reasons we pursue cases like the A-Rod case is we think players should be role models for kids," Manfred explained to Haudricourt. "It's almost comical that A-Rod, who already has admitted in the past he used steroids, would express an opinion on our stance on children and PEDs." The hearing will resume next month. In other news and notes from the American League:

  • Mike Napoli's strong postseason is further proof his avascular necrosis is not an issue as he enters free agency for the second time, reports MLB.com's Lindsay Berra. Napoli was frustrated by having to settle for a one-year, $5MM deal (incentives pushed the eventual value to $13MM) after a three-year, $39MM contract was scrapped because of the AVN diagnosis. "I waited seven years for free agency and then got an opportunity, and it got taken away because of something I didn't even know I had and had never had any pain from," said Napoli. "I'm a little more confident about negotiating a contract now that I've shown all year that my hips aren't an issue, but I'm sure I'm going to have to go through all the steps again, with all the MRIs and talking to doctors."
  • There are six questions the Tigers must answer this offseason, writes MLive.com's Chris Iott. Among the answers, Iott predicts Jim Leyland will return as manager, the Tigers will not re-sign Jhonny Peralta (despite his desire to remain in Detroit), but will re-sign Joaquin Benoit and Omar Infante
  • The Orioles don't have a lot of inventory to deal this winter after trading away six players in midseason acquisitions, writes Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com. Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Steve Johnson head the list of tradeable players, according to Dubroff.
  • Nolan Ryan left his imprint on the Rangers, especially the pitching staff, with his attitude and focus on conditioning, opines Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
  • Ryan received a $10MM buyout (his ownership stake plus incentives) when he announced his retirement from the Rangers, Grant reports in separate article. However, according to Forbes, Ryan wound up losing money on his ownership investment. Ryan's original equity interest was valued at $13MM (6% ownership); but, dwindled to $7MM (1% ownership) because he declined to participate in various cash calls to cover his share of the losses the franchise incurred.

Cafardo On Tigers, Sandoval, La Russa, Blue Jays

After the Tigers were knocked out of the playoffs, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe looks at some of the club's flaws.  He starts at the top of the lineup, where Austin Jackson's .337 on-base percentage and eight stolen bases were not good enough of a contrast to the slow, power-hitting lineup that produced the best offense in baseball.  Possible solutions this winter include Scott Boras clients Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury.  “That’s the one team we haven’t heard Ellsbury’s name mentioned with,” said one American League GM. “We’ve heard a lot about the Mets, Mariners, Rangers, but the Tigers make perfect sense. They are a big-market team with big resources. There’s a relationship with Scott and Mr. Ilitch. They’ve done business before and there’s no reason they can’t do business again.”  Here's more from today's column..

  • The Giants would probably listen to anyone who had interest in Pablo Sandoval, but his weight will be an issue for clubs. However, his conditioning might not totally dissuade teams given the lack of third base options available. 
  • Tony La Russa is out there, but according to a Cubs source there’s been no contact with him.  For his part, La Russa has told friends he’d rather be considered for a front office job than manage again. 
  • Two people in baseball operations with the Blue Jays indicated to Cafardo that they need two quality starting pitchers to go with Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey.  They could take care of one of those spots by extending a qualifying offer to Josh Johnson.
  • It doesn't appear that Justin Morneau will return to the Pirates but the Orioles could make a play for him this winter as they go for another bat.  If Carlos Beltran is too pricey, Morneau could be an alternative even though the O's may prefer a right-handed bat like Mike Morse.
  • The Red Sox went pretty far in their pursuit of Jose Dariel Abreu, but ultimately they lost out to the White Sox.  It was a sensitive negotiation for Boston out of respect for pending free agent Mike Napoli, who would have been affected by an Abreu signing.
  • There’s some real talk about the possibility that the Rays could see Montreal as a real alternative if plans for a new stadium don’t work out in the Tampa area.
  • One of the reasons why Nolan Ryan parted ways with the Rangers was because of the club's decision to let bench coach Jackie Moore go.
  • The Yankees appear to be on the verge of shaking up their scouting and player development departments.

Rangers Links: Ryan, Nathan, Napoli, Salty

Nolan Ryan accomplished a lot of good for the Rangers during his tenure as the club's president and CEO, but his retirement may also be a positive, CBS Sports' Danny Knobler writes.  The Hall-of-Famer's departure will eliminate any tension that existed in upper management between Ryan and GM Jon Daniels, and Daniels knows he now has full reign over baseball decisions.

Here's the latest out of Arlington…

  • The Rangers expect Joe Nathan to void their $9.5MM club option on his services for 2014 and the club will consider other internal closing options, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reports.  While Daniels didn't fully close the door on re-signing Nathan, his recent comments about not committing major dollars to the bullpen seems to hint that Texas could move on from the veteran closer.  MLBTR's Tim Dierkes recently profiled Nathan's free agency case and predicted Nathan would fetch a deal in the two-year, $26MM range this offseason.
  • Also from Sullivan, he opines that former Rangers Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia could be targeted for returns to the club.  Texas is looking for a right-handed bat and for a new catcher this offseason.
  • Earlier today on MLBTR, Charlie Wilmoth spotlighted the Rangers in the most recent edition of our Offseason Outlook series.

Sherman’s Latest: Tanaka, Kuroda, Red Sox

On Friday it was reported that the Yankees are expected to be serious players for Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. While many teams figure to be in the mix, the New York Post's Joel Sherman offered up a look at why the Yankees, specifically, will be motivated to sign Tanaka. Here are some of the highlights from Sherman's latest work…

  • The Yankees want to re-energize their fanbase and generate interest in buying tickets again, and adding Tanaka would allow them to do so without shattering the luxury tax threshold, as the posting fee wouldn't go against that figure. Sherman spoke with multiple executives who told him that each team is set to receive about $25MM from national TV revenue, and the Yankees also received a good chunk of money when News Corp. bought 49 percent of the YES Network. As Sherman puts it: "The Yanks have a big pile of newfound money to use lavishly for a posting bid."
  • Sherman also lists the Red Sox, Rangers, Giants, Diamondbacks and Blue Jays as suitors for Tanaka.
  • The Yankees may be extra-motivated to sign Tanaka due to the fact that many within the organization believe Hiroki Kuroda is leaning toward returning to Japan to finish his career.
  • In a separate piece, Sherman writes that Boston's decision on whether or not to tender qualifying offers to Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia will shape the market. Sherman spoke with four Major League executives — two from the AL and two from the NL — and asked about the Red Sox quartet's chances at receiving a qualifying offer. All four agreed that Ellsbury will receive one. Both AL execs and one of the NL expected Napoli to receive an offer, while just one of the NL execs thought that Drew and Saltalamacchia would get offers. Sherman offers his own expectation as well, predicting that all four will receive qualifying offers.

Free Agent Profile: Mike Napoli

A three-year, $39MM guarantee with the Red Sox for slugger Mike Napoli was renegotiated all the way down to a one-year, $5MM contract in the course of about two months during the offseason, as a physical revealed he has avascular necrosis (AVN) in both hips.  The degenerative condition, which came as a surprise to Napoli, was caught early and has not affected his play to date.  Napoli avoided the DL this year, earning $8MM in incentives to bring his 2013 earnings to the same $13MM average annual value from his original three-year contract.  Now, he's eligible to return to the free agent market coming off a fine season.

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Strengths/Pros

Napoli is one of the top sluggers on the free agent market, as he leads all qualified free agents in isolated power.  He's tied for sixth among all free agents with 23 home runs and is fourth in slugging at .482, assuming Adam Lind's option is picked up.  Napoli is one of just ten players to hit at least 20 home runs in each of the 2008-13 seasons.  

A right-handed hitter, Napoli's on-base percentage is boosted by a strong career walk rate of 12%.  This year, his .360 OBP ranks third among qualified free agents.  If you're looking for offense from a right-handed hitter, Napoli is one of the best 15 bats in the game right now.

We don't take much stock in RBI here at MLBTR, but it may help Napoli's bargaining position that he ranks second among free agents with 92 knocked in.  The player ranked above him, Robinson Cano, will require a much larger commitment.

Formerly a catcher, Napoli proved this year he can play an acceptable first base, logging nearly 1,100 innings at the position with strong grades from UZR/150 (+13.3) and The Fielding Bible (+10).

Napoli comes with a reputation as a winner, as this year will mark his sixth postseason out of eight total seasons.  He was a big performer for the Rangers in 2011, driving in 15 runs in 17 games.

Weaknesses/Cons

While Napoli's AVN has not affected his play or caused him to miss time to date, the Red Sox were concerned enough about the condition to reduce their offer to one guaranteed year at less than 40% of the original salary.  Napoli was back on the open market during the seven-plus weeks his contract was being renegotiated, and while agent Brian Grieper praised his client for his loyalty, it's likely other interested teams shared Boston's concern and didn't offer significantly more.

Napoli has proven his health to the extent possible this year by setting a career best in plate appearances with 578 in the regular season.  It's difficult to project his playing time in the future, however, since he was previously a catcher and has now been diagnosed with AVN.  Napoli had more than his fair share of separate injuries, with 53 DL days in '07, 32 in '08, 22 in '11, and 35 in '12.  These injuries, involving his ankle, hamstring, shoulder, oblique, and quad, may have been related to time spent at catcher, but his history dates back to the minors.  Any team considering a multiyear offer has to take the entire injury history into account.

Napoli struck out in 32.4% of his plate appearances this year, worst among all qualified free agents.  Mark Reynolds and Marlon Byrd are the only other two to even top 20%.  Napoli's strikeouts, which have increased in the past two years, are a big reason why he's hitting .246 since 2012.  Given his walk rate, it still makes for a strong OBP, but if he bats .240 and walks dip to his 2009-10 level, his OBP will no longer be an asset.  Additionally, as you would expect from a former catcher, Napoli's baserunning is below average.

I mentioned earlier that Napoli leads all free agents in isolated power, but his .223 mark is actually his worst since 2009.  Given his previous production and career high in plate appearances, I would have expected Napoli to have over 30 home runs at this point rather than 23.

The Rangers chose not to tender Napoli a $13.3MM qualifying offer after the 2012 season, but with a healthier campign and their recent preference for short-term deals, the Red Sox are likely to make the $14MM qualifying offer five days after the World Series ends.  Napoli is the type of player the system hurts the most: one who is good but not great, and doesn't have the youth of a B.J. Upton.  With the cost of a first or even second round draft pick, a few teams could lose interest in Napoli.

Personal

Mike resides in Pembroke Pines, Florida.  He values time with his family, and even has his mother's name, Donna Rose, tattooed on his arm.  Mike is a big fan of the NFL and college football, particularly the University of Miami.

Market

It would be reasonable for the Red Sox to try to bring Napoli back, and a qualifying offer or the threat of one gives them some leverage.  We've seen them tangle with David Ortiz in this type of situation, with Ortiz accepting arbitration after the 2011 season and getting a two-year deal done last November with a qualifying offer in hand, before hitting the open market.  The Red Sox were willing to offer Napoli three years and $39MM to sign him off the open market last winter before the AVN revelation, but they honed in on him, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, and Stephen Drew in part they would not cost a draft pick.  The Sox liked the two-year, $26MM price enough on Ortiz to forgo the chance at draft pick compensation for him, and I wonder if two years might be their limit on Napoli.  On the other hand, they don't have much in the way of alternatives.

Draft pick compensation will affect Napoli on the open market if he turns down a qualifying offer from the Red Sox.  Still, teams like the Twins, Rockies, and Mets, with protected first round draft picks and openings at first base, seem like good fits.  Napoli has the advantage of a very weak free agent market for first basemen.  Kendrys Morales is more of a DH, and could be dragging around a qualifying offer as well.  Otherwise the options are Corey Hart, James Loney, Justin Morneau, Mike Morse, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, and Paul Konerko.  As one commenter notes below, the wild card in the first base market is Jose Dariel Abreu, the Cuban slugger in whom the Red Sox may have interest.

Expected Contract

I think a qualifying offer can knock a year off a player's contract, as it seemingly did with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, so two years and $28MM is the floor for Napoli.  Ultimately I predict Napoli will land a three-year, $42MM deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL Notes: Napoli, Hochevar, Wedge

Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli says he wants to return to the team next season, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes. Since he has stayed healthy, Napoli has earned the maximum $13MM value of his one-year deal with Boston for 2013. Napoli thinks there's no reason he shouldn't get a multiyear contract this winter, given that his AVN (a condition that leads to degeneration of bone in his hips) has not progressed. "After last offseason, I can’t really [guess], because after going into last offseason thinking I’d get that multi-year contract, I did my time, I’m a free agent, finally got that time, and look what happened," Napoli says. Here are more notes from the American League.

  • It's unclear what the Royals will do with Luke Hochevar next season, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes. He has had surprising success out of the bullpen this year, but it's questionable whether a team like the Royals ought to continue to employ him as a setup man after he gets a raise on his $4.6MM 2013 salary in arbitration this offseason. Given that Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen will be free agents, the Royals could also use Hochevar in the rotation, even though he mostly struggled in his career as a starter. Dutton also raises the possibility that the Royals could trade closer Greg Holland and use Hochevar in that role.
  • It would be surprising if manager Eric Wedge returned to the Mariners next season, but that doesn't mean the team's problems are primarily his fault, writes Dave Cameron of USS Mariner. In fact, Cameron argues, firing Wedge would merely be part of a larger pattern in which the team fires an employee in order to provide scapegoats for the organization's mistakes. And if the Mariners were to fire Wedge, qualified replacements would not see the position as an attractive one, due to the risk that GM Jack Zduriencik will be fired and his replacement would want to bring in his own manager.

Cafardo On Ruiz, Napoli, Hudson, Sizemore

In today's column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that there are several top teams that will have surpluses in certain areas this offseason that will be second guessing whatever move they make.  In the case of the Dodgers, they have four strong outfielders in Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford.  One would imagine that Ethier, who is frequently in trade rumors, would be the one to go, but GM Ned Colletti could also give some thought to dealing Kemp if the right offer comes along.  Here's more from today's column..

  • After bouncing back from a slow start, catcher Carlos Ruiz is desirable again and the Phillies are more enthused about the idea of re-signing him.  That may prove to be difficult once Ruiz gets to the open market as he’d be a cheaper alternative to Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia and more consistent than Dioner Navarro.
  • According to Mike Napoli's agent Brian Grieper, there still haven't been contract talks with the Red Sox.  It appears they will play it out and decide about a qualifying offer.  One possibility is that they put Xander Bogaerts at third and Will Middlebrooks at first, taking Napoli out of the equation.
  • Tim Hudson, 38, wants to return from the ankle fracture he suffered in July.  Hudson, who should cleared for baseball activities by mid-December, will be a free agent but wants to stay in Atlanta.  It'll come down to the money for the veteran, who earned $9MM this season.
  • Grady Sizemore tried to get back playing this season, but he needs more time for his knees to heal. He'll likely be ready for a major league camp next spring and work out for teams this offseason to show he’s healthy.  If he looks OK, he’ll probably get a few teams interested.
  • Some still believe that it was a mistake for the Angels to only pay Mike Trout $510K this season and that he won't forget it when it comes time to work out a new deal with the club.