Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Revisiting the Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco Trade

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Next to Miguel Olivo, he is perhaps the most infamous Blue Jay in recent memory to likely never actually put on a Blue Jays jersey.

Mike Napoli spent a grand total of four days with the organization, but some would argue the ripple effects of his departure are still being felt today.

When the trade went down in January, it seemed like a bit of a head-scratcher as the Blue Jays were giving up a position player for a reliever with a history of injuries. At the time, I was so giddy Alex Anthopoulos was able to dump Vernon Wells' contract that it didn't really matter what happened after that.

Some are saying that this is one of  AA's first big missteps as a General Manager. On the surface, Mike Napoli's 5.6 WAR season far outshone the 0.5 WAR season put together by Frank Francisco, but it's not quite that simple.

Of course, it sucks a little to watch Mike Napoli hit 30 home runs and post a .410 on base percentage for the team that the Blue Jays traded to him. I think it stings even more because Mike Napoli had the kind of season we had all hoped Adam Lind would have.

I believe Adam Lind is part of the reason why the Blue Jays traded away Mike Napoli in the first place. Simply put, they didn't really have a spot on the roster for Napoli after Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion had all the first base/designated hitter positions locked up.

Here's the part that stings about Mike Napoli's season in Texas: although he didn't get the minimum 502 at bats due to some injuries, Napoli still put together a career year in just 113 games played.

His .410 on base percentage ranked third in the American League behind only Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista (among batters who had at least 430 plate appearances). Napoli also ranked second in home runs per at bat with a ratio of 12.3 HR per AB (minimum 425 PA's).

Pro-rate those numbers to a 500 AB season and Mike Napoli could have possibly hit upwards of  40 home runs for the Texas Rangers. But who's to say he would've had the exact same season with the Toronto Blue Jays?

Mike Napoli is an extremely versatile utility player and would have no problem fitting into the lineup on most rosters, but the way Toronto's roster looked in January, frankly there was no place for him to get everyday at bats.

Had the Blue Jays not brought back Edwin Encarnacion on that one year contract plus an option, I'm almost certain Mike Napoli would have been slotted in as the full time DH.

Although he never said it outright, Alex Anthopoulos insinuated he gentleman's agreement with Edwin Encarnacion that EE would get the lion's share of at bats at DH. Thus eliminating the need for Mike Napoli on the Blue Jays roster, and instead Alex Anthopoulos flipped him for a commodity they really did need, a relief pitcher.

Player for player, Mike Napoli obviously had the much better season. Regardless of who it is, I'm never really in favour of trading position players for relievers. In my opinion, above average position players offer more value than solid relief pitching. I'd take a team of Mike Napoli's over a team of Craig Kimbrel's any day.

When you really think about, the Napoli/Francisco deal was the antithesis to the typical Alex Anthopoulos trade. Typically he attempts to acquire high ceiling talent, but at the very best the Blue Jays would've gotten a good reliever out of the deal.

On paper, it was a one-for-one trade with Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco, but I don't look at it that way. Essentially that trade was a sub-deal of the Vernon Wells deal. The trades never happened in succession, but I look at it as a three-team trade.

The Mike Napoli trade would not have happened had the Vernon Wells trade not gone down. After Alex Anthopoulos was able to ship Vernon's contract off to Los Angeles, anything that happened after that was a win.

When Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli came back in return from the Angels, the Blue Jays were playing with house money. It was basically a salary dump by the Angels, but Toronto did acquire two players of value in return, as well as getting $86 million off the books.

Viewing the trade in terms of just Mike Napoli and just Frank Francisco, then Alex Anthopoulos may have been a little trigger happy to get rid of Napoli and bring in Francisco. However, if you look at the bigger picture, that $86 million dollars shed in payroll is worth far more in the long run than Napoli's 5.6 WAR season in 2011.

If this trade ends up being one of the biggest "blunders" of the Alex Anthopoulos regime, then the Blue Jays will be in fine shape.

16 comments:

  1. Hindsight is definitely 20-20, but who could have guessed that Napoli would have improved his OBP from .316 last season to .414 this year? Also, who knows what kind of season he would have had in Toronto? Maybe one of the Texas coaches tweeked his swing? Or being in that Texas line-up offered protection he wouldn't have gotten in Toronto? Who knows?

    I do agree with you though, had AA not just resigned Encarnacion, I don't think Anthopoulos would have traded Napoli, and since he had no position for Napoli and needed a closer he made the deal.

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  2. I pretty much agree with you. At the time, I didn't love the trade, but you might recall that many baseball writers thought it was shrewd. At the time, Napoli was viewed as an okay hitter for a catcher, but not really good enough defensively to BE a catcher.

    Also, to (somewhat) come to AA's defense, after the Wells trade, he had Encarnacion, Lind, Snider, Rivera, Napoli, and an eye on some AAA players like Thames clogging up the LF-1B-DH positions. I'm sure he would have loved to have dumped Rivera right away first, but had no takers. He figured Napoli was surplus, and felt he still needed a 2011 closer.

    That aside, this was clearly his worst move so far in his GM career.

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  3. Because it made perfect sense in context, I can't really slag AA for this trade even though it turned out poorly. AA's worst move for me was moving Rzep to the bullpen in favour of Jo-Jo Reyes. I fully expect Rzep to blossom as a starter under Dave Duncan's tutelage and make the Jays wonder how things might have turned out had they given that rotation spot to Rzep.

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  4. What is confusing to me is the speed with which the napoli/fransisco trade happened.

    If i recall correctly the swap happened very shortly after the wells trade. So AA must have really like fransisco otherwise he would have waited for a while.

    The other factor to remember in this deal is that Fransisco is, and was at the time, a good bet to get type B status. So in that sense keeping napoli is/was a "win now" move and gettting fransisco is a "stock pile the system" move.

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  5. Peter, the mind-boggling thing for me was that Mike Napoli ranked third in the AL in OBP with .410. But because he only had 432 at bats, he didn't qualify.

    It's easy to say that Napoli could've hit 30 home runs in Toronto, but we'll never know. I honestly think he never would've gotten nearly the amount of at bats with the Blue Jays as he did Texas.

    Sporkless, out of the Rivera/Napoli combo, I figured Rivera would've been out the door long before Napoli. I guess they couldn't find any takes for Juan, so that's why they kept him for the first few months.

    And if this was the "worst" move that AA has made during his tenure as Blue Jays GM, then we're in pretty good shape :)

    King_Cat, that R-Zep move was another head-scratcher. He probably would've done well had he been in the rotation, but they figured Zep was better served as a lefty specialist/late-inning relief guy.

    Jerkstore, the wheels were in motion for the trade in less than 4 days after acquiring Napoli. And Francisco had a better shot of going Type B, they probably figured at best Napoli would platoon with somebody. He's still under team control with Texas next year anyway.

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  6. I agreed with your entire article except for one line - "I'd take a team of Mike Napoli's over a team of Craig Kimbrel's any day."

    I'd much rather have an army of Craig Kimbrel's in my bullpen. Otherwise, really good read :)

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  7. Ian,

    If you look at the time of the trade, AA was still intent on building the system. Getting FF on a good year probably would've landed FF in Type A status landing him 2 picks for the 2012 draft. Napoli is still under contract for 2012, and there was no indication that he'd end up in the same spot for the 2013 draft.

    If that trade happens this off-season, with the Jays poised to have the best system in baseball, I don't think AA makes that deal.

    It certainly seems like a mis-step now, but you have to look back at the direction the Jays were in at the time of the deal.

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  8. Jason, thanks! I know the 25 man roster can't be comprised with just position players, but I guess the point I was trying to make was I'd rather have a team of average to above-average players who can play multiple positions. Versatility is key, just ask the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays.

    GC, you're right - much better chance of 2Frank becoming a Type A than Napoli. And Francisco filled a void in the bullpen when Napoli was really just gravy at that point.

    On paper, the trade looks like a bad deal for the Blue Jays, but given the scenario, I'd say it worked out well for both teams.

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  9. While I agree with you on most points I really think that this is truly a Napoli vs EE situation. I really hope that AAs faith will at some point be validated. But I just don't see EE ever putting together a full season. He'll put together streaks and maybe even a half season that tantalized you. But the result is always the same an average season in a position that you need a proven above average bat.
    Imagine if we had naps hitting clean up.......

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  10. Anon, EE had a great second half, but I think the collective is not banking he'll do the same in 2012. The good thing is that the Encarnacion at third base era has ended, and he's actually not too shabby at first base if the Jays want to run at platoon with Lind and Encarnacion.

    I think I alluded to it earlier in the post, but I think the main reason the Blue Jays didn't keep Napoli around was because they already had a gentleman's agreement with EE that he would be the full-time DH in 2011.

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  11. I don't think some of the assumptions in this article are correct. My understanding is that the Jays have wanted Fransisco for a while, and knew they could get him from the Rangers for Napoli before ever making the Wells trade.

    I think the trade from the Blue Jays standpoint was Wells for Fransisco, Rivera, and cash savings. Which you obviously do in a heartbeat. Analyzing the steps along the way to do that is unfair because it ignores the end result. Similar to the Rasmus deal...

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  12. Anon, since the trade happened so quickly after the deal with the Angels, AA must've had Francisco on his radar for a long time, and was just waiting for the right package to put together to get him from Texas.

    The Napoli/Francisco swap on its own might look bad, but it was one subsection of a previous trade. So like you said, it was basically Wells for Francisco (and Rivera, but since he ended up being traded anyway, I look at that as a salary dump).

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  13. I agree with you, I was so happy to get rid of Vernon, who cares what happened after? I think both teams have done ok with the deal, obviously Texas did better. FF didn't really suck. BTW, can I ask you not to do a post on Halladay vs Carpenter? The Jays giving up on Chris still stings....lol

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  14. Tony, if Frankie's second half was any indication what he can do over the course over a full season, then it will be a wise idea for AA to at least lock him down for 2012. At $5 million or so, that's a risk I'd be willing to take.

    And don't worry, I won't be rehashing the Chris Carpenter thing. I know people are still sore about that one, but it was a decision made by J.P. Ricciardi.

    What's done is done ... it's a great game of "what could have been", but I guess we'll never know!

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  15. I'd sign up FF, I think at that money that is a path worth exploring. BTW, I very much enjoyed the Cardinals game. Way to go Chris!!

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  16. From what I hear, it wasn't just AA wanting FF, it was Texas wanting Napoli. Jon Daniels, the Texas GM, was on the phone the minute the Angels-Blue Jays trade went down. Good deal for everybody, except the Angels of course.

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