Having struck out all winter, the Angels finally did something to shake up their lineup Friday, only the move was to get rid of one of their best hitters.
Opinions on Mike Napoli’s defense are certainly mixed, but there aren’t many better offensive catchers. Since he entered the league in 2006, Napoli has hit .251/.346/.455 with 92 homers in 1,549 at-bats. Over the last three years, he’s come in at .258/.341/.502. Only two catchers with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2008 stack up better when it comes to OPS+:
1. Joe Mauer – 147
2. Brian McCann – 126
3. Napoli – 123
4. Victor Martinez – 117
5. Jorge Posada – 117
And it’s not like the Angels have a whole bunch of expendable offense. They ranked ninth in the AL in runs scored last season. They had five above average hitters last season, counting the 51 games they got from Kendry Morales. They’ll likely have a full season from Morales this year, but now Napoli and Hideki Matsui are gone and the other two productive players, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, are turning 35 and 37, respectively.
Napoli’s departure means one of baseball’s worst hitters — arguably the worst — will move into the starting lineup on a regular basis. It might be merely a temporary promotion for Jeff Mathis, as the team has a decent alternative in Bobby Wilson and a top prospect on the way in Hank Conger, but Mike Scioscia loves his defense and won’t need much convincing to give him 400 at-bats for the first time.
And that’s just not something the Angels can afford at the moment. Morales and Hunter should be good, but probably not great. Abreu is drifting back towards average, and Juan Rivera and Alberto Callaspo aren’t anything more than that. The Angels will go get themselves a DH before Opening Day, and they might yet pull off an upgrade at third base, though there’s no help in free agency there.
Scioscia definitely seems to have his work cut out for him now. Yet this is what he wanted: he may have had nothing to do with the trade itself, but in choosing to put so much faith in Mathis, he steered Napoli out of town just the same.