DEC. 27: Jon Heyman of FanRag notes that although no deal was ever imminent (and he never reported that it was), the talks should be considered serious, as he believes they’ve progressed to a point where Minnesota looks like the most likely landing spot for the first baseman.
5:50pm: MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand hears that while the Twins like Napoli, there’s nothing imminent between the two sides (Twitter link). Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press (Twitter link) hears similarly, saying the Twins’ focus remains on their pitching staff.
DEC. 25, 10:32am: The two sides are in “serious talks,” says Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.
DEC. 24: The Twins have interest in signing free agent first baseman Mike Napoli and have been in touch with Napoli’s agent, according to La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News first noted the interest recently via Twitter. There isn’t any sign yet that the two sides are close to an agreement.
This isn’t the first time that Minnesota has been linked to Napoli, as the club originally tried to sign Napoli last offseason and actually offered him a larger deal than the one he eventually signed with the Rangers — a one-year, $6MM deal with an $11MM club option for 2019 that included a $2.5MM buyout. At the time, Napoli chose the Rangers because they looked like a better bet to contend in 2017, though it was the Twins who ended up making a surprise run to the AL wild card game while Texas posted a losing record.
It was a tough year for Napoli as well, as the veteran hit only .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances for the Rangers, though he did slug 29 home runs. A torn right hand ligament may well have contributed to Napoli’s struggles, though the Rangers chose to buy the veteran out rather than bet $8.5MM more on a rebound year for a player who turned 36 on Halloween.
Given that Napoli provided good power numbers even despite an overall lackluster season at the plate, he could provide a right-handed boost to the Twins’ bench, and even become a major bargain if he could regain the old form that he displayed as recently as the 2016 season. As Neal and Miller note, the Twins also value Napoli’s reputation as a clubhouse leader, which could be particularly important for a young team that has an eye towards becoming a regular contender. Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine are both very familiar with Napoli’s contributions on and off the field, as Napoli played for the Indians and Rangers when Falvey and Levine respectively worked in those clubs’ front offices.
The Twins’ move towards contention and their lack of future payroll commitments have given them lots of options this winter, as the club has been linked to several major names on the free agents and trade markets (though Fernando Rodney has been the only truly notable addition to date). Minnesota has much more of a dire need for pitching than hitting, so signing a part-time bat like Napoli wouldn’t do much to slow their hopes of landing a top-tier arm.