Poor Mike Napoli. The Angels don’t seem to want to play him, but they won’t trade him either? The guy just can’t win. After the events of the last few weeks, one has to wonder what the Angels’ plan is for Mike Napoli (assuming the Angels even have one).
No matter what Napoli does, he can’t help but strike out with Angel management.
The case of Mike Napoli’s 2010 season is a curious one indeed. It is a tale of paradoxes and sheer confusion that only the mind of Mike Scioscia could craft.
Coming into the season, the Angels placed a premium on power in the lineup. As one of the top slugging catchers in all of baseball, it seemed Napoli was poised to play a big role for the Angels. The result? Jeff “The Worst Hitter in Baseball Not Named Brandon Wood” Mathis started the vast majority of games at catcher, instead of Napoli, to begin the 2010 campaign. It took an injury to Mendoza Line Mathis for Napoli to see any kind of regular playing time at all.
Napoli shook off a slow start to knock the ball all over the park in May before slowing down in June. But even in one of his prolonged cold spells, Napoli still posted much better numbers than Mathis ever did. It seemed like he would assuredly take over catcher on a full-time basis even when Jeff Mathis recovered from his injury. But lo and behold, fate intervened in the form of a tragically stupid ending to a Kendry Morales walk-off celebration. No longer would Mathis and Napoli vie for playing time, but rather share the field together. Mike Scioscia finally got to have his cake and eat it too.
For a month or so, anyway. For roughly six weeks, Napoli had first base all to himself, a perfectly sensible move since the Halos had no other options at the position and needed Napoli’s big bat to help fill the void left by Morales’ absence. But for some reason when the calendar turned over into the month of August, common sense went out the window. As the dog days of summer dragged on, Napoli’s playing time started to get more and more sporadic. Naps went from playing nearly everyday to starting just three of the last seven Angel games. The reason? To find more at-bats for Juan Rivera to underachieve in. Bravo, Mike Scioscia, bravo. Mike Napoli hasn’t exactly been crushing the ball of late, but he hasn’t posted an OPS under .720 in a given month this season.
And what exactly did Napoli do to fall out of favor? The only sin I can see is that he put up below average numbers in the two months in which he was asked to learn a new defensive position on the fly. He finally got his chance to impress the Angel brass and responded with a muffled thud instead of a loud bang. Napoli had been exposed for not being a premium power bat at a thin defensive position but rather an above average power threat with no defensive value. In that respect, you can’t blame the Angels for feeling like it might be time for them to move on from Napoli, but move on they did not.
At this juncture, a trade of Mike Napoli would have made a world of sense. Any number of teams, even non-contenders, would love to get their hands on a catcher with a potent bat and a contract that runs through 2011. Knowing that, the Angels did the smart thing and tried to pass Mike Napoli through trade waivers, a clear signal that they were willing to part with him as they knew full well he would never clear waivers. Really, there was no point in putting him on waivers at all if they didn’t at least have some serious thought of ridding themselves of him. Sadly, that is where the serious thought ended. Instead of making a concerted effort to trade Napoli by burning up the phone lines ahead of time to find a potential match before placing him on waivers, the Halos merely left it to chance only to watch the hated Red Sox claim Napoli, instead of a team like the Tigers, a far better match as a trade partner.
To little surprise, the Angels didn’t let Napoli go to Boston, but now they and Mike are in the awkward position of knowing that each party wants out of their relationship, kind of like a girlfriend who catches her boyfriend seriously flirting with another woman. Nothing was ever consummated, but now the girlfriend knows that her man is actively looking for her replacement and Napoli knows the Angels are looking to trade him in as well.
Or are they?
In typical Angel fashion, the front office is now saying they have little desire to move Mike Napoli, that he is a valuable member of the roster for this year and next. But how can that be? Mike Scioscia has made it abundantly clear that he will not tolerate his defensive deficiencies as a catcher, and Napoli’s brief foray at first base has been an unequivocal fielding nightmare, but DH seems out of the question as well since Bobby Abreu’s leaden-feet seem ticketed for that slot in 2011. Angel management can say they like him all they want, but the man simply has nowhere to play next season. And if they are being insincere in their commitment to keeping Napoli in the fold, why make such a half-hearted effort to trade him away?
It is time for the Angel decision makers to poop or get off the pot in regards to Mike Napoli. Either you like him and commit to playing him or you don’t like him and you get rid of him. You can’t have it both ways.