The Texas Rangers and catcher Mike Napoli have been engaged in talks on a long-term deal this winter. It appears, however, that such an arrangement won’t be happening anytime soon.
Napoli, who is eligible for salary arbitration for the final time this winter, would be eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. Rangers GM Jon Daniels told the Dallas Morning News last night that the two sides were too far apart and had “agreed to focus on a one-year deal.”
Evan Grant, who penned the above linked piece, offered his guess that the chasm separating Napoli and the Rangers could be similar to the difference in free agent contracts signed by last winter’s top two catchers on the market. If you recall, John Buck, coming off a big season for the Blue Jays, but with little measurable success before that, inked a 3-year, $18 million deal with Florida. Victor Martinez, who had a much longer track record of success as a hitter, signed for four-years and $50 million with the Tigers.
Without looking at his career numbers, you’d assume that Napoli should realistically fall between these two cases. Even in limited playing time with the Angels, Napoli consistently out-produced Buck’s pre-free agency career. Napoli is a year younger than Buck, and has two fewer seasons of major league service, but while Buck has had only two season with an OPS+ of at least 100, Napoli has never had a season where his OPS+ was less than 107.
Once you start digging in to the numbers, in terms of rate of production, Napoli’s career is comparable to that of Martinez. Neither player has a reputation as a great defensive catcher, though most would agree, I think, that Napoli has begun to shed some of that stigma.
Both players have a history of producing good power numbers, with Napoli showing a better ability to hit home runs, while Martinez is more a doubles hitter. Until this past season, when Napoli went a little nuts, Martinez would have been widely-considered the superior hitter. Napoli’s camp could certainly make a case that the tide has turned there.
In the three seasons before he signed his deal with Detroit (2008-2010), Martinez posted a combined line of .298/.362/.462/.823, with an OPS+ of 117. Those numbers did include an injury-shortened 2008 campaign that saw Martinez post just two home runs and an OPS+ of only 88. That three-seasons sample included Martinez’s age 29-31 seasons, so certainly nearing the tail-end of his peak years.
Napoli, on the other hand, produced a .274/.357/.526/.883 line in his last three seasons (2009-2011), encompassing his age 27-29 seasons. During that time, his OPS+ was 134, a stark improvement over that of Martinez. Napoli does strikeout far more often than VMart, but he more than offsets that with his ability to get on base, and to drive the ball with authority. Despite playing in fewer games, and getting roughly 150 fewer at bats during the designated three-year spans, Napoli not only out-homered Martinez 76 to 45, but he also collected more total bases during that time as well.
If the Rangers are maintaining, like Grant suggests, that Napoli is more Buck than he is VMart, I can certainly understand why talks have stalled. Napoli is a better receiver than Martinez, he’s significantly younger, and he’s been a better hitter than Martinez was in the seasons leading up to his $12.5 million per year contract with the Tigers.
If Martinez can get $12.5 million per year for four years, Napoli is certainly worth that much as well. In fact, he’s probably worth even more.