Throughout the playoffs and into the World Series, the national media liked to cling to the "Mike Napoli is the heart and soul of the Cleveland Indians" narrative. If that is indeed true, is it enough to warrant bringing him back for another go-round?
Napoli is coming off of a one-year, $7 million deal that he inked with the Indians last December. The aging slugger was coming off of a career-worst year in 2015 as he saw his slash line drop across the board and he had not hit 30 home runs since 2011. That’s why it was a brilliant signing by the Tribe.
Call it dumpster diving if you want, but that’s the kind of move that made the 2016 Indians what they were — smart, calculated decisions. Not blowing a lot of money on over-30 players coming off of big years. Instead, finding players who were poised to bounce back. It’s classic buying low.
Signing Napoli after his 2016 campaign would be signing him relatively high.
At 35 years old, Napoli put up some of his best power numbers since 2013; his 34 home runs were the most of his entire career. I, personally, thought Napoli’s biggest contribution would be on defense — if he was even average and allowed the below-average Carlos Santana to slide into the designated hitter slot it would be a huge swing. That did not quite pan out.
Napoli was awful on defense last season, in part because he just lacks the athleticism to make difficult plays anymore. Even his percentage on Inside Edge’s routine plays has dropped to 93 percent, down from 95.5 percent in 2015 and 98.9 percent in 2014. Napoli’s age may have also played a factor in his late-season drop. Because boy was there ever a drop.
August was his best month as a member of the Indians, but September and October brought nothing but heartache. Napoli’s slash line dropped to .140/.289/.323, although five balls still found their way out of the park. He would go just 9-for-52 in the playoffs, 3-for-15 in the World Series.
The Indians smartly declined to extend a qualifying offer to Napoli. As good as most of his season was, it wasn’t $17 million good — he surely would have accepted and the Indians would be stuck paying nearly $30 million for two first basemen between him and Santana. Instead, he will be allowed to test the market without a QO hanging over his head. If it results in a bidding war, I would expect the Indians to be out rather quickly.
At the right price, bringing Napoli back would be great. His personality and clubhouse presence had an obvious impact, but the Indians are not exactly a team short on leaders.