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.