The rumor mill keeps churning, and the Houston Astros continue to be linked with many names around baseball. It is anybody’s guess who the Astros will target in free agency at this point. And with the Astros looking to improve at numerous positions, there is no doubt that they will be linked to even more players as the Hot Stove heats.
But one interesting name is being floated around lately that could associate with Houston: veteran slugger Mike Napoli. According to a CBS Sports Inside Baseball report from Jon Heyman, Napoli could be a fit for the Astros as the organization looks to solidify the first position.
This is quite an interesting pairing to say the least. After all, Napoli is a 34-year old veteran that is on the downslide of his career. But he would bring a solid veteran presence to an Astros squad that needs more stability from first base to realistically take the next step to consistent contention in the AL West.
The Pros of Mike Napoli
Napoli has been there and done that throughout his career. He was part of competitive Los Angeles Angels squads during the mid-to-late 2000’s, earned a World Series ring in 2013 with the Boston Red Sox, and participated in the last three Texas Rangers’ playoff campaigns. That experience in the playoffs would surely benefit the Astros as the organization prepares to build upon 2015’s unexpected trip to the postseason.
The veteran slugger would also bring stability to first base, at least in a part-time role. He won’t strike out nearly as much as incumbent first baseman Chris Carter. And with the struggles of Carter being well-documented then the Astros front office may jump at the chance to solidify the lineup with a more proven hitter. The playoff experience would be extra gravy as well.
And Napoli has been the model of consistency for the majority of his career. While his statistics hasn’t always been the most exciting, Napoli has provided an average of roughly 20 home runs and 57 RBI per season throughout his career. And traditionally his wRC+ and wOBA have been rated between above average to great.
His ability to field a competent first base has to be taken into consideration as well. Consider this: Carter had a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) at first base of -1.9 in 913.1 innings. Napoli, on the other hand, had a UZR of 4.4 in 899 innings. And yes, while fielding metrics isn’t exactly the ideal factor in determining fielding competency, it does provide insight into a players production in the field.
In theory, signing Napoli to a modest short-term contract while non-tendering Carter could be a hand that general manager Jeff Luhnow could play this winter. This scenario would allow the Astros to bring along top prospect A.J. Reed at a slower pace and would provide him a worthy mentor in Napoli.
The Cons of Mike Napoli
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Like it was stated earlier, the fact that Napoli is 34-years old and on the downside of his career has to be taken into account. While he posted similar home run and RBI numbers in 2014 and 2015, Napoli’s advance metrics doesn’t paint as kind of a picture.
For example, in 2014, Napoli finished with a 123 wRC+ and a .353 wOBA. But in 2015 Napoli suffered a noticeable drop in both metrics, finishing with a 98 wRC+ and .321 wOBA. And those 2014 numbers were also a slight drop from his 2013 statistics.
Then there is the issue of power. While Napoli does have his own fair share of crushing the ball out of the park, he will-will not bring the same type of power Carter provides. Each year since his hard hit percentage career-high of 41.3% in 2013, Napoli’s hard hit percentage has dropped to 29.3% in 2015. In comparison, Carter had a hard hit percentage of 36.7% this past season.
And though he has established himself as an above-average hitter throughout the majority of his career, one can never expect for history to constantly repeat itself in the face of inevitable decline. It is left to be seen how much is still left in the tank for the 10-year veteran.
Then there is the issue of potential 2016 salary, especially with Napoli coming off a two-year, $32 million extension that expired at the end of the Rangers 2015 playoff run. And while it is reasonable to assume that Napoli won’t demand a $16 million per year salary, he may still demand more along the lines of Colby Ramus’ 2015 salary, if not more. This will be more than what Carter is possibly stand to gain via arbitration. In the end, this may block any potential pairing between 34-year old veteran and the Astros.
The idea of adding Napoli has to be an attractive option to the Astros front office. If he could improve and stabilize first base while waiting on Reed to be ready to take over the position in the future, then it could be well worth the investment. But by bringing Napoli on board this would allow Reed to be eased into the major leagues. However, if the price is too steep, then the Astros may be better off retaining Carter and hope for a continued resurgence in 2016.
But this is just the beginning of the offseason, and the Hot Stove is now heating up.
**Statistics are provided by Fangraphs.com**
**Contract information provided by SportsTrac.com**