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Colorado Rockies Missed a Golden Opportunity With Mike Napoli

The Colorado Rockies haven’t experienced a winning season since 2010 and haven’t participated in the playoffs since 2009, but that hasn’t stopped them from making some bold moves this winter.

Bringing Bud Black on as manager to replace Walt Weiss was the first domino to fall before they did some free-agent spending. Colorado then signed Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal to further bolster the offense, along with fortifying the bullpen with Mike Dunn (three years, $19 million) and Greg Holland (one year, $7 million).

Combine this with a young core that includes Jon GrayNolan ArenadoDJ LeMahieuTrevor Story and a few others, and the Rockies are indeed set up to attempt making a run at the postseason in 2017. With Spring Training approaching quickly, the heavy lifting of their offseason is done.

However, given the state of this winter’s free agent market, they missed out on a unique opportunity to acquire a veteran player who’d help them both on the field and in the clubhouse.

No, I’m not talking about catcher Matt Wieters — they could’ve really used first baseman Mike Napoli, who finally just agreed to a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers.

The Type of Experience They Needed

As evidenced by their roster moves, the Rockies are convinced they’re in position to win right now, PECOTA projections be damned. While bringing in a player like Desmond is a solid move for a reasonably young club, he doesn’t come close to matching Napoli’s playoff experience.

He’s appeared in 66 total postseason games during his career, compiling 227 plate appearances. Sure, the .228/.322/.396 triple slash with 8 home runs and 30 RBI isn’t necessarily worth bragging about, but his teams have made the postseason in 8 of the last 10 years, including 3 trips to the World Series (winning it with the Boston Red Sox in 2013).

No position player on Colorado’s projected roster (from Roster Resource) even comes close to that kind of wisdom.

Plus, it wouldn’t have taken a huge commitment to snatch him up off the open market. Napoli initially was looking for a three-year deal, but conceded to two before eventually settling for one year (with a club option) on the eve of Spring Training. The Cleveland Indians didn’t extend him a qualifying offer, so Colorado wouldn’t have even had to surrender another draft pick (they sacrificed their first-rounder to sign Desmond).

It’s not ideal to award a multi-year deal to a player entering their age-35 season, but if there’s ever a situation to justify such a transaction, it would’ve been this one.

They Were Already Thinking About it

Even after acquiring Desmond to be their everyday first baseman despite never playing the position as a professional, the Rockies were at least somewhat interested in what was a very deep first base/designated hitter market.

Rumors had them connected not only to Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo via free agency, but they also explored Jose Abreu as a potential trade option.

Those all appeared to be long shots, but with a willingness to spend, it wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility. Are those three perceived as better options than Napoli on paper? Well, yea, but they would’ve cost much more to acquire — whether you’re talking about money, prospects/draft picks or both.

Declining Defense, But So What?

Obviously, Napoli hung out on the free agent market this long for a reason. There are potential risks in signing him, especially if a team seriously considered keeping him beyond 2017. His offense could decline from his career highs in homers (34) and RBI (101) from last season, but playing home games at Coors Field would’ve likely helped soften that blow.

The other risk for a National League team like the Rockies to consider would be his declining defensive numbers from 2016. After being an asset with the glove since becoming a full-time first baseman in 2013, Napoli posted a negative DRS (-4) and UZR (-4.4) for the first time.

He could bounce back from those numbers, but even if he only maintains them, they’d still be better than the production Colorado received from the position last year.

Rockies first baseman posted a -5 DRS and -5.4 UZR in 2016, both of which were among the worst in baseball. So, the defense would basically be a push, while Napoli could’ve provided a substantial offensive boost.

Player HR RBI wRC+ fWAR
Mike Napoli ’16 34 101 113 1.0
Mike Napoli Steamer ’17 23 69 103 0.9
Rockies 1B ’16 17 70 83 -1.3

And again, let’s not forget that Colorado currently has Desmond penciled in there. Even though he proved athletic enough to be passable in the outfield for the Rangers, the Rockies are showing they don’t care much about defense at this position.

A Wasted Opportunity

We come back to this at least once or twice a year, but Colorado’s ultimate unwillingness to actually trade an outfielder appears to be at least part of the reason why they didn’t pursue a true first baseman after signing Desmond (outside of Mark Reynolds, of course).

Charlie Blackmon‘s name was mentioned in trade rumors this winter, but nothing came to fruition. And instead of attempting to unload Carlos Gonzalez ahead of his contract year after two consecutive healthy seasons, the organization is exploring an extension — which makes absolutely no sense.

Not making a move like this prevents Desmond from returning to the outfield while simultaneously opening up the opportunity to sign someone like Napoli, who could’ve come pretty darn cheap.

Is this the kind of situation Colorado will look back on and wish they approached it differently? We’ll find out soon enough how well this roster works and if the Rockies will make any legitimate noise in the National League playoff picture as they’re currently constructed. Whether they do or not, signing someone like Napoli definitely wouldn’t have hurt.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference. Advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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