Mike Napoli

Red Sox lineup a whole lot deeper with Mike Napoli in the middle

15 Comments

Mike Napoli to Boston has long seemed like destiny. That he’s been such a roaring success at Fenway is part of it: Napoli has hit .306/.397/.710 with seven homers in 62 lifetime at-bats in Boston.

The Red Sox initially tried to acquire Napoli in 2010, when the Angels weighed parting with him before the deadline. The Halos kept him then, only to send him to Toronto in the Vernon Wells deal after the season.

Napoli was moved quickly to Texas from there, and he hit 54 homers in his two seasons with the Rangers. Now a free agent for the first time, he’s struck a three-year, $39 million deal to play for the Red Sox. It was an easier price for Boston to pay since the Rangers didn’t make Napoli a $13.3 million qualifying offer, meaning there was no draft pick compensation attached to the signing.

Adding the 31-year-old Napoli presents the Red Sox with possibilities. They now have four catchers in Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway. Napoli, though, wasn’t being viewed as a full-time option behind the plate by Boston or anyone else. He’s always struggled to stay healthy as a catcher, and some feel he might perform even better offensively if his time behind the plate is limited.

As things stand now, Napoli will see the vast majority of his time at first base. If Salty is traded, then perhaps Napoli will catch two or three times per week. If not, then Napoli may do most of his catching in NL parks when the Red Sox put David Ortiz at first base.

With Napoli in the fold, the Red Sox are currently looking at the following lineup:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Mike Napoli
LF Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava
3B Will Middlebrooks
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia/David Ross
RF Ryan Kalish
SS Jose Iglesias/Pedro Ciriaco

It’s a given that they’ll add a starting outfielder, which would likely leave Gomes, Nava and Kalish to battle for time in one spot. They could also sign Stephen Drew for shortstop, but if they don’t get him, they’ll probably give Iglesias a shot rather than turn to an Alex Gonzalez-type free agent.

Napoli may not be the ideal cleanup man, given that he’s likely to hit closer to last year’s .227 mark than his .320 average from 2011. Still, his power numbers should be very impressive if playing first base allows him to get 500 at-bats for the first time. His career average puts him at 32 homers per 500 at-bats.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
18 Comments

It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.