On Mike Napoli and Wil Myers
Over the last few days, a couple of rumors have kicked up in regards to the Mariners. Not surprisingly, both involve the team acquiring a hitter, because, well, you know. It’s no secret the M’s want to improve their offense this winter, and every other team, agent, and writer in America knows that too. Teams with hitters available are going to call the Mariners. Agents with hitters available are going to call the Mariners. The Mariners are going to call them all back. Rumors are inevitable, which is why you shouldn’t take most of them too seriously.
These two, though, maybe you should take a little more seriously than others.
Let’s start with the Mike Napoli rumors, which have a little more teeth. On Thursday, Jim Bowden reported that Napoli was holding out for a four year contract from the Red Sox, and he might be able to get it from the Mariners. On Friday, Ryan Divish noted that Napoli has indeed already met with the Mariners, which goes beyond just the “hey, don’t sign without checking in with us” phone call that they made to every free agent hitter with a pulse. A meeting means that there’s enough mutual interest there that something could happen.
There are a few potential problems with a Napoli/Mariners get together, however. While Napoli’s calling card is his power, his primary position is still catcher — he’s caught 500+ innings every year since his rookie season of 2006 — and reports suggest that Napoli is looking for a team who will continue to deploy him behind the plate with regularity. The Mariners could use a 2013 part-time right-handed catcher who can mash if they’re ready to give up on Jesus Montero behind the plate — as I think they should be — but no one is suggesting that Napoli is interested in coming to Seattle on a one year deal. If Boston is willing to go three years, then the Mariners probably aren’t getting him for less than four, and if Napoli views himself as a catcher beyond 2013, that could create some problems in Seattle.
Obviously, Mike Zunino made a lot of noise this summer, and while you could justify giving him a full year in Tacoma, you don’t really want to block your best prospects path to the big leagues by giving out a long term deal to a 31-year-old who is already showing signs of decline. If Napoli is interested in coming to Seattle, it would have to be pretty clear that he’d be looking at a 1B/DH job for most of his time here, and his days at catcher would be winding down after this season. That’s not a great sales pitch, though, especially when the other team reportedly bidding for his services can point to The Green Monster and a much better history of winning. Napoli knows he’s going to spend a decent amount of his time at 1B/DH no matter where signs, but if he’s serious about staying behind the plate as more than a backup beyond this coming season, the M’s could run into a problem when Zunino is ready for the Majors.
And, realistically, even if he’s totally on board for 2013 being his last season as a catcher, there’s still a roster issue if you bring him as a 1B/DH. With John Jaso and Jesus Montero, the team already has a couple of their better offensive performers locked into C/1B/DH positions. If you sign Napoli, one of them is out of a job as soon as Zunino is ready. Yeah, Jaso’s probably a platoon player coming off a career year, and Montero’s still got a ways to go before he’s an impact big league hitter, but there’s a difference between upgrading on a glaring weakness like the team has in the outfield and upgrading on a position where the team already has viable alternatives. The cost of doing the latter is simply higher.
If the Mariners could turn around and flip Montero for something interesting at another position, maybe it’s worth doing. It’s no secret that I’m not as high on him as a lot of others are, so I’m not dead set against replacing him, but the overall series of moves would have to make sense. They’d either have to have a deal in place that isn’t selling low on him coming off a bad rookie season, or make it a shorter term move that allowed him to go back to Tacoma, learn how to play first base, and rejoin the team in 2014 as a better player. On a one year deal, that situation is kind of interesting. On a longer term contract, though, you’re punting one of your best offensive talents, which makes the improvement less of an upgrade.
And Napoli’s not exactly a sure thing himself. The massive spike in his strikeout rate should scare you. The fact that he only hit nine doubles last year should scare you. The fact that he’s a catcher on the wrong side of 30 should scare you. Maybe he goes Josh Willingham on the league and shows everyone that the strikeout rate wasn’t a trend, but there’s some legitimate downside to giving him a long term deal. Given his age, his body type, his skillset, and the fact that he’s already logged 4,000+ big league innings behind the plate, counting on him to be a productive player in 2014 and beyond is a gamble. At the right price, it might be a gamble worth making, but if you’re outbidding the Red Sox, it’s probably not the right price anymore.
Given the Mariners already have a bunch of C/1B/DH types, I don’t think I’m all that interested in Napoli beyond a one year deal. Texas saw him up close and personal the last two years and wouldn’t even extend him a qualifying offer for 2013. There are too many red flags here for me to be that excited about a three or four year deal for Napoli. One with a vesting option and a bunch of incentives? Okay. Maybe even two guaranteed if the price is cheap enough. But once we start talking about the age 33 or 34 season of a catcher with old player skills, I’m not real interested in paying a high price for those years.
At the opposite end of that spectrum is the never-ending rumors of a Mariners-Royals trade. No, not that weird “trade the farm for Billy Butler” idea that apparently took hold last week, which never made any sense to begin with. Instead, in the wake of the Royals signing Jeremy Gutrhie, Jerry Crasnick and others have suggested that the team is interested in swapping a minor league hitter for a “young pitcher”, as they attempt to fill out their rotation without giving up any pieces from their big league roster to do it.
The Royals have exactly one minor league hitter interesting enough to land a premium young arm, and his name is Wil Myers. In fact, Myers is a top-5 prospect in the entire sport, ranking up there with the likes of Dylan Bundy, Jurickson Profar, and Oscar Taveras. He’s a 21-year-old outfield with some serious power who held his own in Triple-A for nearly an entire season after pounding Double-A last year. He’s not a perfect prospect — he still has some contact issues, primarily — but he looks a lot like a right-handed Jay Bruce, and he could develop into an above average right fielder within a year or two, with some real star potential down the line.
Myers, of course, is exactly the kind of player the Mariners need. As an outfielder who hasn’t even made his big league debut yet, he could fill a hole on the roster without being a short term fix, and could grow with the rest of the kids already here. Unlike Zunino or the rest of the bats on the farm, he doesn’t need any more time in Triple-A. He’s ready to step in and play big league ball on Opening Day next year. He’s a prospect in the sense that he’s never made the majors, but this isn’t a kid that you need to wait for him to develop. He’s a long term asset who can also offer 2013 production. The best of both worlds.
Which is why he’s not going to be easy to get. While we talk about Walker, Hultzen, and Paxton a lot, the reality is that none of them are particularly close to being big league ready. You could dream on a guy like Paxton or Hultzen helping out in the second half if their command improves, but in reality, they’re probably more 2014 pieces. And there are teams who would be just as interested in Myers as the Mariners that have big league arms they could offer up instead of the wait-and-see kids that Jack Z can dangle.
The Rays are the obvious competition here. They’re losing B.J. Upton, so they have a hole in their outfield. They don’t have the payroll to replace him with a premium free agent, and have to rely on continually restocking the team with pre-arbitration players who can produce while making the league minimum. And they have Major League youngsters like Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore that they could offer up, both of whom already have legitimate big league experience and could step right into the Royals rotation without missing a beat.
Taijaun Walker’s a nice prospect, but he’s not Matt Moore. James Paxton isn’t Jeremy Hellickson. Danny Hultzen isn’t Jon Niese, if the Mets decided to get involved in things. And, whenever you’re talking about the Royals, you can’t count out the Braves, who are loaded with pitching talent and are Dayton Moore’s favorite trade partners, given his history with the organization. There are a bunch of teams that would want Wil Myers and can simply offer up better young pitchers than the Mariners have.
If the Mariners want Myers, the hope would have to be that the Royals also loved Nick Franklin. Putting Franklin in a deal with one of the Big Three probably keeps you in the race for Myers, even if other teams are willing to give up an arm that is a little closer to big league ready. The M’s pitch would basically be quantity over quality, or at least, enough quantity to justify the drop-off in quality.
Is Jack ready to pay that kind of price for a kid who hasn’t even seen the big leagues yet? After all, even if you just look at the prospects as wild cards whose futures can’t be predicted, they’re still essentially the only trade chips Jack really has. Regardless of whether or not you’re interested in waiting for the kids to develop, they at least have value as currency, and the organization will have to decide if Myers is the right kid to give up their only real currency in trade for.
Because if it’s not Myers, a pick two of Walker/Hultzen/Paxton/Franklin opens a lot of other doors, and if you trade two of those guys to get Myers, you’re not left with a ton of chips to make other deals. At that point, you have to be pretty confident you’re signing a decent hitting free agent, or else we could be left with a winter like last year where the only real improvement is supposed to come from a kid who just spent the year in Triple-A. Myers could be a nice addition to the team, but he’d be a nice addition that would go along with the signing of a guy like Nick Swisher, not a move that replaces that kind of upgrade.
So, in both instances, I’d suggest not holding your breath. It’s possible that the Mariners could sign Napoli and trade for Myers. Or it’s possible that Napoli could choose Boston and the Rays could simply ace the Mariners out of a deal with KC by putting Matt Moore on the table. I’m sure the Mariners are exploring their options with both Napoli and the Royals. Maybe it will lead to something. Maybe it won’t. In both cases, whether we even want it to happen depends on the price. Napoli on a one year deal? Sold. Paxton and Franklin for Myers? Sold. But, at those prices, other teams are going to be saying the same thing.