After a disappointing 2017 campaign which saw his option get declined by the Texas Rangers, Mike Napoli could be a low-cost acquisition for the Mets. With the Mets seeking a first baseman who will not completely block Dominic Smith from getting consistent playing time, taking a flier on the 36-year-old Napoli might not be the worst idea.
As with most players who can be had in Napoli’s price range, there are some risks in his signing. The 2017 season is probably one that Napoli would like to forget, as he posted career lows in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS+ and hit just .193/.285/.428. It was also the first season in his 12-year career in which he was worth negative bWAR, racking up -0.4 in 124 games. Napoli also posted a career high in strikeout rate at 33.6%.
There is a bright side to last season’s disappointing performance, as Napoli underwent surgery on a torn ligament in his hand which was reported to be ailing him for a significant portion of the season. Maybe his stark dip in offensive production can be chalked up to playing through an injury and not performing up to his potential. Another statistic than can provide some hope of a rebound was Napoli’s abysmal .225 BABIP, which can be at least somewhat attributed to bad luck. One part of his game which did not take a hit in 2017 was his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, as he racked up 29 home runs, which ranked third on a Rangers team that placed third in all of baseball in home runs.
Defensively at first base, Napoli was actually a positive defender producing 1 DRS and 1.1 UZR in 95 games and 782 innings at first base for the Rangers. Other than the 2016 season with the Cleveland Indians, Napoli has been a positive defender at first every year since 2013.
One of the biggest aspects of Napoli’s game is his renowned ability to be a team leader and become an integral part of his team’s locker rooms. Napoli was perhaps most widely known as one of the leaders of the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox “beard brigade” that earned them national coverage during and after their postseason run. More recently, Napoli was a well-respected veteran presence for the 2016 AL Champion Cleveland Indians working as an influence for the younger, less experienced players, and bringing some levity with his “Party at Napoli’s” slogan which he then proceeded to take with him to Texas. He also made enough of an impression on new manager, and former Indians pitching coach, Mickey Callaway that the skipper personally reached out to the slugger to gauge his level of interest in becoming a Met.
Napoli can be a cost-efficient move for the Mets to get some support at first base without breaking the bank on a player like Eric Hosmer or, to a lesser extent, Logan Morrison. While he may not be as versatile in the field as the Mets would want, a bounce back from Napoli could provide the team with a capable veteran presence at first base who wouldn’t command too much money or too many years of commitment.