Trade Week: Leveraging Mike Napoli for relief help

DALLAS - This week we will be examining various trade possibilities for the Rangers as we near the MLB Trade Deadline. With Texas just a few games out of a Wild Card spot, the season is far from over despite a record seemingly stuck in neutral around .500. Whether Texas wants to trade players with expiring contracts for prospects to build for the future, trade prospects for big leaguers to help put them over the top, or stand pat and see if they can make it to October with the team they've built, the Rangers have options.

Let's pretend for a moment that the Texas Rangers are in the hunt for a Wild Card spot. This current stretch of games, from here until the end of the month, will be the ultimate factor in which direction the scales tip. In this stretch, they have one day off and face Tampa Bay after starting the second half against Kansas City and Baltimore. All three of their road trip opponents are very much seeking the same Wild Card spot alongside the Rangers.

Use the day off as a waypoint. If Texas – after finishing a series at home against Miami – has gone somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-5, they could find themselves in a similar position as 2015. Back then, four games out of the Wild Card spot with nine teams ahead of them, the Rangers traded for Cole Hamels and ended up winning the division. The division is a far cry this season, but a similar trade could happen to help push the Rangers to the top of the Wild Card race.

One of the pieces that will be thrown into the rumor mill whether the Rangers decide to buy or sell is Mike Napoli. The 35-year old, right handed slugger was signed by Texas for his third stint with the club, not only to add power to the lineup after the departure of Mitch Moreland, but also as a leadership figure and mentor to some of the younger Rangers who would no doubt get playing time this season. With a contract of $6 million for 2017 with an $11 million option for 2018, or a $2.5 million buyout, Napoli hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations of his contract. At a .194/.273/.437 slash, Napoli is generating a NEGATIVE 0.2 WAR – but the 34 homer potential will play somewhere, as will the 8 post-season trips in his career and the words of many a coach under whom he has played.

But where could he go?

New York Yankees

Here’s the obvious choice. Greg Bird was supposed to be the next great Yankee first baseman after Mark Teixeira. Bird is on the verge of ankle surgery. After designating for assignment, re-signing, recalling and again designating for assignment Chris Carter, the Yankees turned to Tyler Austin.

Austin landed on the disabled list with a severe hamstring strain, from which he has suffered some setbacks. At that point, the Yankees turned to former Los Angeles Angel Ji-Man Choi. Choi only has four games with the Bombers under his belt, and to lend further support to the first base position, Brian Cashman made a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, sending lefty-reliever Tyler Webb to the Crew for prospect Garrett Cooper. Cooper, a Triple-A All-Star this season, will be the 11th first-baseman for the Yankees.

Two incredibly novice Major League first basemen don’t exactly spell prolonged success for a Yankee team that sits in the coveted second Wild Card spot, but is only 4.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox.

Napoli’s power could very easily play in Yankee Stadium, and if Bird does undergo surgery, the Yankees could pick up that option and keep Cooper at Triple-A to continue to develop. New York did just make a big move to acquire Todd Frazier from the White Sox but that only solves one of their infield needs.

Who would the Rangers get back in return? Put aside thoughts of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Gary Sanchez or Aaron Judge, Rangers fans, that’s not happening on any level of fantasy or reality. Instead, look to the relief corps. Chasen Shreve, Chad Green and Adam Warren are likely off the table, as they have been pitching well for the Yankees. Perhaps it’s Domingo German, a 24-year old right-hander with a 96-mph fastball and a seven-year minor league ERA of 2.59, 1.14 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9. One could also look at Ben Heller, a 25-year old righty, who has been pitching well in 27 games at Triple-A, with a 2.68 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 11.7 K/9 and closer experience, including five games for New York over the last two years.

New York Mets

Down in Queens, the Metropolitans can’t buy a break. Three-fifths of their famed potential rotation, Matt Harvey (not that he was doing much), Robert Gsellman and Noah Syndergaard are out. David Wright will never be what he was. Yoenis Cespedes floats in and out of the disabled list. Neil Walker is injured. Juan Lagares is injured. Jeurys Familia is injured. And while every team deals with injuries around this time of year, what the Mets have had to deal with is 2014-Rangers-esque year.

Couple that with the fact that the other remaining regulars – Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce – haven’t exactly been pulling their weight, it would take a huge shot in the arm for the Mets to think they can get back into it.

It’s exactly the type of situation Mike Napoli could help rectify. Of course, Napoli couldn’t be the only move Sandy Alderson makes, but if he and Terry Collins wanted to have one last hurrah before Winter ravages the front office of the team, acquiring Napoli would be just the right kind of reckless move.

As for the return, don’t expect Addison Reed…unless you want to include Jurickson Profar in a package with Napoli. That’s not a bad idea, especially since the Mets don’t have a natural second baseman outside of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera is reportedly begging to be shipped off elsewhere because he was unceremoniously shifted to second.

Outside of that, you might see if Jerry Blevins can be pried away – not a bad option to back up Jake Diekman if he doesn’t have a successful time back. If you build for the future, 23-year old starter Chris Flexen is having a strong progression within the Mets’ system as their number 10 prospect.

Tampa Bay Rays

Did you know that the Rays hold the top Wild Card spot in the American League? It’s true. They’re a game and a half ahead of the Yankees, while playing four more games than the Bronx Bombers. With the departure of Colby Rasmus from the team – permanently – the Rays are down a bat.

Even though Rasmus wasn’t a big contributor to the home run party the Rays have been throwing (he had nine of the Rays’ AL-third-best 133), it’s still a hole in the lineup that needs to be filled. With Kevin Kiermaier still out for a considerable amount of time, Tampa will be relying even more heavily on Mallex Smith and Peter Bourjos, neither of whom are exactly threats with the bat. Having Mike Napoli as a platoon partner with Logan Morrison would be part of a winning formula at first base for the Rays.

One of the other motivating factors for the Rays gunning for Napoli might be to keep the slugger from going to the inter-division Yankees and Red Sox. As spelled out earlier, the Yankees are relying on a very inexperienced first base to help propel them past the Red Sox, and Boston themselves might look to platoon with Mitch Moreland, or at the very least, provide some more lineup firepower from an old friend in the absence of recently-DFA’d Pablo Sandoval.

Tampa Bay might not be willing to part with one of their better relievers in Chase Whitley or Tommy Hunter, but the recent return of Brad Boxberger certainly supplies some depth for the Rays’ bullpen. Erasmo Ramirez, a one-time potential for the Rangers could be on the table, but more intriguing is fellow rental player Alex Cobb.

Follow me – if the Rangers can get something of value in trading Andrew Cashner, giving Napoli to the Rays for free-agent-to-be Alex Cobb could prove to be a win-win for Texas and Tampa Bay. Cobb, who has started 18 games for Kevin Cash’s team, is rebounding after an injury-plagued 2016. He’s the kind of pitcher Texas has employed, sporting a 3.75 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 1.24 WHIP who thrives off of inducing weak contact. Having Alex Cobb, who has nine quality starts, and Tyson Ross bring up the back of your rotation isn’t an awful idea.

Those are my top three probable landing spots for Mike Napoli. The more I think about it, the more I hope the Rays are a trade partner. Whether it’s for Alex Cobb or some other future pieces, I think I like how Texas can turn out in that scenario.

 

Are you ready to see the Party at Napoli's come to an end? Share your thought with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.

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