Just days after acquiring catcher Mike Napoli from the Angels as part of the Vernon Wells trade/contract dump the Blue Jays have traded him to the Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco.
Napoli seemed like an odd fit in Toronto because the Blue Jays have catching prospect J.P. Arencibia ready to take over behind the plate this season, but the presence of free agent signing Yorvit Torrealba in Texas likely means Napoli won’t be a regular catcher for the Rangers either.
Instead, he’ll likely see some action behind the plate while also taking starts at first base or designated hitter from Mitch Moreland against left-handed pitching. Whatever slim chance there was of Vladimir Guerrero returning to the Rangers in a part-time role, the acquisition of Napoli seemingly rules his return out completely. During the past three seasons Guerrero has hit .297 with an .832 OPS versus lefties, but Napoli has been even better by hitting .310 with a .987 OPS off southpaws.
There’s nothing the Blue Jays could do to make the Wells trade (and any moves stemming from it) look like a mistake, but a good-hitting catcher generally has more value that a good but not great reliever and they just signed a pair of right-handed relievers in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch. Toronto lost closer Kevin Gregg and setup man Scott Downs to free agency, so perhaps they felt even more bullpen reinforcements were needed, and certainly Francisco is a very good late-inning option who may beat out Dotel for closing duties.
Early struggles saw Francisco lose his closer job to Neftali Feliz in April and a strained rib muscle got him left off the Rangers’ playoff roster, but in between he posted a 2.84 ERA, .220 opponents’ batting average, and 57/16 K/BB ratio in 51 innings from mid-April to the end of August. He also had a 3.43 ERA, .206 opponents’ batting average, and 140/41 K/BB ratio in 113 innings during the previous two seasons.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉