Author: Matthew Pouliot

Mike Napoli

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

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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.

Update: the Rays and James Loney agree to a one-year deal

James Loney
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UPDATE: Jon Heyman reports that the deal is done. The Rays have signed James Loney to a one-year, $2 million deal with incentives which could land him an extra million.

1:25 AM: Those hoping the Rays would land a big bopper at first base this winter appear set to be disappointed. Yahoo’s Tim Brown reports that the team is close to a deal with free agent James Loney.

Loney, 28, was one of the game’s worst players last season, hitting .249/.293/.336 in 434 at-bats for the Dodgers and Red Sox. He hasn’t posted an 800 OPS since hitting .331/.381/.538 in 344 at-bats for the Dodgers in 2007.

The money might not be significant enough to prevent the Rays from acquiring another first baseman to play over Loney. Still, it’s entirely possible that he’ll be their primary starter against right-handers, replacing free agent Carlos Pena. Moves like this do have a way of working out for the Rays, and Loney is perhaps young enough to surprise. He did flash some talent in the second half of 2011, hitting .320/.380/.534 in 206 at-bats.

Rangers re-sign non-tendered catcher Geovany Soto

Geovany Soto
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Geovany Soto was a free agent for right around 48 hours. He re-signed with the Rangers on Sunday night after failing to come to terms on a deal and getting non-tendered on Friday.

It’s a one-year pact with the dollars still unknown.

Soto, who turns 30 in January, hit .199/.284/.347 in 176 at-bats for the Cubs and .196/.253/.338 in 148 at-bats for the Rangers last season. He had his best season in 2006, hitting .285/.364/.504 with 23 homers. He also hit .280/.393/.497 in 2010 before seeing his OPS suffer big drops two years running.

The Rangers will surely be on the looking for another catcher to complement Soto. They haven’t ruled out re-signing Mike Napoli, and they could also consider such players as Chris Snyder, Jesus Flores and Kelly Shoppach.

Why on earth is Craig Biggio above steroid suspicion?

Craig Biggio
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Here we have Bill Madden’s latest gem of a column, which contains enough strawmen to fill up Citi Field. In it, he promotes Jack Morris and Craig Biggio for the Hall of Fame, and while he doesn’t unequivocally state that they are the only two players he is voting for, the column certainly suggests it.

I’ve tackled Morris before and will again tomorrow, but let’s concentrate on Biggio for a moment. Biggio is being promoted by Madden and others as this year’s clean candidate, whereas his longtime Astros teammate, Jeff Bagwell, has had his candidacy tainted by steroids.

What I don’t get is why one if not the other?

The case against Bagwell is that he showed little power as a youngster, befriended noted steroids user Ken Caminti, got a lot stronger in the majors and then turned into one of the game’s best players.

And that differs from Biggio how? Biggio hit four homers in 555 at-bats at age 24, four homers in 546 at-bats at age 25 and six homers in 613 at-bats at age 26 before turning in the first of seven 20-homer campaigns at age 27.  His career high of 26 homers came at age 39.

Furthermore, Bagwell and Biggio were good friends who spent 15 years as teammates. I have my doubts that the training methods of one were a secret to the other. If Bagwell was on something, one would think there’s a more than slight chance that Biggio was on it, too.

So why does Biggio get trumped up as clean? Because he was a middle infielder? Because he hit 20 homers per year rather than 40? I’ll give you that Biggio wasn’t quite as stacked as Bagwell in his prime, but the guy had some muscles.

Personally, I’m very much in favor of putting Biggio into the Hall, just as I’m in favor of Bagwell’s candidacy. Part of Biggio’s power spike can be attributed to him leaving the Astrodome for Enron Field/Minute Maid Park. Towards the end of his career, once he realized he could no longer cover the entire plate, he made a conscious decision to become more of a pull hitter and take aim at the shallow left field porch at Enron.

Biggio was a favorite of mine, and I’d like to think he spent his entire career steroid-free. My point here isn’t to label Biggio a cheater. It’s simply to say that we don’t know, and that anyone that would go to lengths to promote him as the clean candidate is either naive or stupid.

Report: Brad Lidge opts for retirement

Brad Lidge
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Brad Lidge, who sat out the remainder of the 2012 season after being released by the Nationals in June, has decided to retire, ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports.

The 35-year-old Lidge had a 9.64 ERA in 9 1/3 innings before being let go by the Nationals. Battling both shoulder and elbow problems, he had seen his innings total decrease four straight seasons.

Lidge was incredible at his peak. In 2004, he finished with a 1.90 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings of relief for the Astros. Only three relievers have ever struck out more batters, and they all needed 130+ innings to get there (Dick Radatz in 1963 and ’64 and Mark Eichhorn in 1986).  After Lidge, the highest strikeout total for a reliever in fewer than 100 innings is 141 (Rob Dibble, 1989).

Lidge also topped 100  strikeouts in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, he finished a perfect 41-for-41 saving games during the regular season and then added seven more October saves while closing out the World Series for the Phillies.

Unfortunately, Lidge’s most famous postseason moment was giving up a walkoff homer to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS. The Astros, though, bounced back to win that series, and Lidge was a stellar postseason pitcher overall, amassing a 2.18 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings.

Lidge finishes his 11-year career with 225 saves, a 3.54 ERA and 799 strikeouts in 603 1/3 innings. It’s the second highest strikeout rate in major league history for a pitcher with at least 500 innings, with Billy Wagner barely beating him out (Wagner is at 11.920 K/9 IP, while Lidge comes in at 11.919).