We can all stack up memories, even fairly recent ones, of players that the Rangers gave up too early (Adrian Gonzalez, John Danks, maybe Pedro Strop and Chris Davis) or got too late (Adam Eaton, Brad Wilkerson, Rich Harden, Ben Broussard).
But there’s a deeper list during the Jon Daniels/Nolan Ryan era of players that Texas acquired at what appears to have been exactly the right time. Players who were picked up just before they exploded, who came at a price that in retrospect seems absurdly light, who reached their big league peaks (or a significant resurgence) here – which doesn’t even count Adrian Beltre, whose contract already seems like a bargain.
Josh Hamilton. Nelson Cruz. Colby Lewis. Joe Nathan. David Murphy. Marlon Byrd. Darren O’Day. Milton Bradley. Darren Oliver. Even Endy Chavez.
But when we look back on this awesome period in Rangers history, there will be a place carved out for a player who defines the category, a dirtball veteran who’d been quit on by the rival organization that raised him, who gave rise to synchronized stadium chants that didn’t even need a scoreboard prompt, who played big at the biggest moments and should have a Corvette in the garage from a couple Octobers ago.
I’ve said before that Cliff Lee is one of my five favorite Texas Rangers ever, despite what amounted to only three months with the club.
Mike Napoli may not be in my top five, but he’s unquestionably a top 10 Ranger for me.
I’m sad because Napoli, a newcomer to the club, was such a big reason the Rangers got back to a second straight World Series, and an even bigger reason they should have won that one, and now he’s gone. There are players who have been here a long time that I want to see hoisting a World Series trophy, but among those who came in as part of those two pennant-winning clubs and have moved on, I might feel worse about Napoli not coming away with a title than any other player whose impact here was so brief.
I was so sure that Dave Magadan was going to be massive for Napoli.
I hoped that Napoli, while not a frontline catcher, would have been persuaded by the opportunity for enough work behind the plate here to take whatever it was that Texas offered, and that over the next two or three years he would have hit enough that the bat would have played at first or DH as well, as he grinded out long at-bats and did considerable damage to strikes.
But Boston overpaid. I question the Rangers’ decision not to have tendered Napoli a qualifying offer (one year at $13.3 million) a month ago, but I don’t question their failure to match the three years and $39 million that the Red Sox are guaranteeing (if Texas was even given the opportunity to match). He’s already shown that durability is an issue, he’s on the wrong side of 30 with a build that doesn’t exactly promise to age well, and 2012 was a really crummy year – especially on days when he wasn’t catching (.186/.302/.432).
Really, if you want to look at Napoli’s value with an exaggerated cynicism, he’s only had one season (5.3 WAR in his magical 2011, which was really a magical second half and post-season) in which his productivity exceeded Gary Matthews Jr.’s career year in 2006 (5.0 WAR), which Matthews parlayed into the five-year, $50 million contract that the Angels weren’t done paying for until the final days of the 2011 season, when Napoli was going 4 for 11 with four Texas home runs in a series in Anaheim as Matthews, who had been traded to the Mets two years earlier, was putting the finishing touches on his first full year on the couch.
That’s not to suggest that Napoli is headed for a Matthews-like descent, or that his 2011 season was a mirage (even if it was a major breakout that he failed to come close to repeating last year). It’s only to point out that, like with just about every free agent, there are red flags, and with Napoli, all things considered, there are a handful of them suggesting that $13 million at age 31 and $13 million at age 32 and $13 million at age 33 was probably an overpay.
Man, I wanted him to re-sign here, though.
Jonah Keri of Grantland said a really insightful thing yesterday about the Rangers: “This is a team with big-market resources that plays in the fourth-biggest market in the country, but still maintains the small-market discipline that helped it build a winner.”
We all know that to be true.
But dude, that chant.
And that Game 5 double to right center that gives me chills before I finish typing this sentence.
And those playoff caught-stealings that will stick in my mind as long as any throws Pudge Rodriguez ever made here.
And Jackie Moore slapping him in the face, by invitation.
And all those annihilations of the Angels, which I am counting on more of, even as he wears a Red Sox uniform.
I wish Napoli well. Especially in those dozen games each year against the Angels and A’s.
He’ll be in Arlington on May 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and maybe again in October. He’ll be a tough out in Rangers Ballpark, as he’s always been, just as he will in Fenway.
It’s tough to explain to your kids that whole thing about baseball being a business, and when a player comes through your franchise and makes an impact like Napoli did, in the way that he did it at this magical time in the franchise’s life, when he was stolen from the Blue Jays, four days after they’d stolen him from the Angels, who didn’t believe in him, when he elevated his game as the stakes were raised and had the ability to put a team on the shoulders of his half-buttoned jersey that didn’t really fit right, when he exemplified the unartificial energy and swagger of a team that had both in heavy supply in the unforgettable times, when he was the kind of player whose obvious love for the game you wanted your kids to see, well, baseball as business can get to be a little tough for a guy a decade older than Napoli to get his head wrapped around.
This is where he came into his own, and we were there.
I couldn’t be more ecstatic about the two years – and club option for a third – that Texas and Joakim Soria reportedly agreed on yesterday afternoon. Maybe one day I’ll feel about Soria’s time in Texas the way I feel about Napoli’s, especially if Soria – who arrives without a ring just as Napoli and Beltre did two winters ago and Nathan did last year – gets to pitch in October and helps the Rangers win the Corvette game one of these years.
I’ll write about Soria’s arrival sometime this week. There’s a time to rend and a time to sew, and though Monday represented a little of both as far as the Rangers were concerned, I’m gonna let Napoli hog this space for now.
I was sad to see Byrd go, too, but Texas got to the World Series the season he left, and that’s the point. I’m all about this franchise winning. Bottom line.
So that’s the thing I’m reminding myself as I send this, that Napoli’s departure made sense for him (financially if for no other reason), and maybe by winter’s end we’ll see that it made sense for Texas as well (financially if for no other reason), and if the Rangers win in 2013 or 2014 or 2015 without him, I’ll get over this moment’s gut punch and think well of the time he was here and of the post-season slug and of all those moments against the Angels and of the toss to first from foul ground that ended the Rangers’ last playoff win and of the hashtag that I’m pretty sure I rolled out there first.
And though my vote won’t count, my ballot will say that he’ll deserve some fraction of a Rangers World Series share himself – as long as he doesn’t go off and do bad things to Texas the way he’s treated his other former club these last two years.