The Mike Napoli Humdrum Conundrum

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So far this has been a disappointing season for the Boston Red Sox, due largely to a lack of offense and boneheaded plays in the field. Rick Rowand takes a look at the Mike Napoli humdrum conundrum.

The most difficult decision a general manager has to make is when to let go, via trade or by designating for assignment, a veteran player. Especially one who, like Mike Napoli, was an integral part of the Red Sox World Series victory in 2013.

But the Sox need to do something. He is in the final year of a two year/$32 million contract. By his own admission, he is not comfortable at the plate and it shows in his results. He is hitting just .202/.295/.380 through 59 games – the lowest of his career. One stat that says he could improve is his BABIP, which is .228; the average is around .300. However, he is also getting close to 34 years of age and not many players continue to perform at their previous levels at that age. He is also frustrated by the larger strike zone that umpires are calling and he is very unsure of which pitches to swing at and which pitches to let go.

Everyone was optimistic after he had a brutal surgery this off-season to correct his sleep apnea. For the first time in eight years he is able to get a full night’s sleep and feel rested. But so far, that extra energy hasn’t translated into offensive production. 

Farrell has tried moving him around in the lineup and even gave him a couple of days off this past weekend. Of course, it’s way too soon to see if this time off helped, but he did break a four game hitless streak on Tuesday with his first multi-hit game in ten days.

There are trends in his numbers that don’t bode well for a return to form for Napoli. His ISO has steadily declined – from a high in 2011 of .312 to .223 in 2013 to .176 this season. Naturally, his OPS has been trending downward as well, from 1.046 in 2011 to .842 to .664 this year. He is also not pulling the ball as much as he used to – only 34.5% this year – and his line drive % is at the lowest of his career:

At this point, Napoli has almost no value as a hitter. Something has to be done, but the options are limited. His salary is a sunk cost and comes off the books after the season. It is time for the Red Sox to look at their options, internal and external, and find Napoli’s replacement.

So what are the options? The first, and least painful, is for Napoli to come down with a case of the Hellenic flu so he can go on the DL, on the outside chance he would be able to figure something out. The second option is to trade him. At this point, the Red Sox would be lucky to receive even a marginal prospect for him, and would have to eat the majority, if not all, of his salary. The last, and most painful option for all parties, is to designate him for assignment. In this scenario, the Sox would still be eating his salary, but there is a chance that another team would claim him and the Red Sox would receive nothing in return.

I want to say here that, like most Red Sox fans, I like Napoli and wish he could turn it around. However, from watching him at the plate, reading his comments and looking at his numbers, I remain dubious.

Rick Rowand has written about a 12-pitch at bat by Hanley Ramirez, a bad start by Clay Buchholz, Brock Holt’s cycle and Rick Porcello’s inconsistency.

Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.

Check out Justin Gorman’s take down of Bill Paschke.

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