If the Indians have it their way, there will be more parties at Napoli’s in Cleveland next season. General manager Mike Chernoff indicated before the team’s Game 7 World Series loss to the Cubs on Wednesday that the Indians would like to retain impending free agent first baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli.
“We have a desire to have him here, and my sense is that he has a desire to be here,” Chernoff told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.“That’s something we’ll have to address once the World Series is over.”
With the season now in the books, the Indians have a five-day window to exclusively negotiate with Napoli, who will become eligible to sign someplace else Nov. 8 if he and the Indians don’t reach a deal by then. Reeling in Napoli won’t be as easy as it was for Cleveland last offseason, when it inked him to a one-year, $7MM contract in January. Napoli was coming off one of the worst seasons of his career then, having hit a below-average .224/.324/.410 with 18 home runs in 469 plate appearances divided between Boston and Texas. The 35-year-old slugger rebounded during the regular season for the American League Central-winning Indians, with whom he slashed .239/.335/.465 with 34 homers in 645 PAs and became a fan favorite and important clubhouse presence. Napoli then collected just nine hits and a single HR in 51 postseason trips to the plate for the AL pennant winners, but that small sample of poor production shouldn’t have much of an effect on his stock.
In the event Cleveland and Napoli aren’t able to reach a new agreement in the coming days, the team will have the right to issue him a qualifying offer by the Nov. 7 deadline, though that could be an agonizing decision. If Napoli accepts, it would force the Indians to allocate a lofty chunk of payroll ($17.2MM) to him in 2017. Although Napoli was a key member of the Indians’ lineup and clubhouse this year, his limitations as a defender and baserunner significantly weaken his value. Not receiving a QO could work out better for Napoli, who would hit the open market without draft pick compensation scaring away potential suitors.