Mike Napoli is what he is.
He is not the MVP candidate he played like in 2011, but for the other six of the past seven years, he’s been a remarkably consistent player.
Not counting 2011 when he hit .320/.414/.631 with 30 home runs, Napoli has put together four seasons since 2008 where he hit at least 20 home runs. Since becoming a full-time player in 2009, he’s walked at least 40 times per season every year and has posted an OPS no lower than .784. In 2011, he was a 5.6 win player, but in every other year since 2008, he’s been a 2-3 win player.
Even at his worst, which was likely his 2010 campaign in which he hit .238/.316/.468 with 26 home runs, Napoli was better than any catchers the Pittsburgh Pirates have.
Pirates catchers hit .218/.300/.392 in 2012, with 23 home runs, with most of that production coming from the surprising emergence of Michael McKenry, who came on strong last year and stole more at-bats from assumed starter Rod Barajas than anyone expected. Barring a repeat of McKenry‘s improbable month-and-a-half stretch when he hit .397 with eight home runs, the Pirates will be lucky to get production even that good next year.
Rod Barajas is likely going to be one-and-done in Pittsburgh, with the Pirates unlikely to pick up his $3.5 million option for next year.
As beloved as he is by the fans, to the point that #startthefort was trending on Twitter during the summer in Pittsburgh, Michael McKenry is not a starting catcher. While his production was a pleasant surprise for the Pirates this summer, increased exposure to major league pitching showed the flaws in his game, as he went just 17 for his final 103 at-bats after peaking at a .285 batting average in early August. He is a nice backup catcher, and his power makes him among the best in the game at that role, but let’s leave it at that. Starting Michael McKendry is something the old Pirates would do – the same Pirates that have lost 20 straight seasons.
If these Pirates want to be the “new” Pirates, they need to make a move.
The nice thing about Naopil is that the Pirates can make a reasonable assumption as to what they will get out of their investment. They can essentially pencil Napoli into their lineup for 110-120 games, with a .250-.260 batting average, a .340-.360 on-base percentage, and 20-25 home runs.
If there is one spot where the Pirates need to increase their offensive production next season, it’s behind the plate. Additionally, the Pirates desperately need another right-handed bat to balance out the left-handed production they get from Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones.
There’s not much to work with on the free agent market, meaning Napoli could end up getting a sizable payday, but entering his 31-year-old season, shouldn’t command more than around a four-year deal.
As long as the Pirates offer him a contract based on his 2008-2010, 2012 production and not his 2011 outlier season, he will be worth the stability he brings behind the plate.