When the Red Sox put in a waiver claim on Angels’ catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli on Saturday, they may have been attempting to block the Rays from getting him.
The Red Sox and Angels reportedly failed to come to an agreement for the catcher, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a shrewd move for the Red Sox.
The struggling Angels placed Napoli on waivers last week, in the midst of his best year as a power hitter. Entering play Monday, Napoli is hitting .249 with 21 home runs, 60 RBIs and 20 doubles, and he has started in 103 of the team’s 131 games. An average defensive catcher, Napoli lost many at-bats to defensive whiz Jeff Mathis early in the season, but has gotten more playing time since the Angels’ starting first baseman, Kendry Morales, broke his leg in late May.
Even though the two teams couldn't reach a deal, it could be something Boston revisits in the offseason.
Despite being a one-trick pony offensively, he has multiposition versatility, and his power might be an upgrade over Mike Lowell at first base. Although his defense might not meet the lofty standards Mike Scioscia wants from his backstops, Napoli’s a capable-enough receiver that could be a viable option to help replace Victor Martinez if the team is unable to sign him in the offseason.
Napoli is under team control for the 2011 season, and Boston already has its catcher of the future in Jarrod Saltalamacchia; another part-time first baseman with power potential but questionable defensive skills. And while Napoli would represent a modest upgrade near the bottom of the Red Sox’ lineup now, he doesn’t have the bat to profile as an everyday first baseman should the Red Sox elect to move Kevin Youkilis to third base next year.
It seems unlikely the Red Sox would give the Angels any significant prospects for a player who doesn’t fit their long-term needs. Instead, it’s more likely that Boston claimed Napoli to keep him from the first-place Rays.
And while the Sox couldn't make a deal for Napoli at this present time, it could temporarily benefit them in the short term. While its possible Boston might make another run at Napoli at a later time, it's more likely that they claimed Napoli to keep him from the first-place Rays.
Tampa Bay has a dynamic offense and scores plenty of runs thanks to its speed and ability to reach base, but the Rays are an average team in terms of power. Tampa Bay ranks seventh in the AL in home runs — ahead of only the Minnesota Twins among playoff hopefuls — and Napoli could have infused some much-needed pop into the middle of the Rays’ lineup. Tampa’s everyday catcher, John Jaso, has surprised everyone by posting a .380 OBP through his first 268 at-bats, but he lacks the kind of thump the Rays sorely need.
The Rays hurt the Red Sox’ playoff hopes this past weekend, but Boston earned a small victory by keeping Napoli away from an already dangerous team. That’s unlikely to provide much solace for Red Sox fans now, but if a weak-hitting catcher falters in a big spot for Tampa down the stretch or next season, it may seem like a worthy consolation after all.
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