For a couple weeks now, we’ve been hearing that the Twins have interest in free agent 1B/DH Mike Napoli. It seemed like a quizzical choice as the team is already set at first base with Joe Mauer, designated hitter with some combination of Robbie Grossman and Kennys Vargas, with Miguel Sano likely stepping into either spot when the team would face a lefthanded starting pitcher.
Nevertheless, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported just before the new year that not only are the Twins interested in Napoli, it’s considered inevitable that he will sign with Minnesota. Thus, we’d have to figure out how he fits on this roster.
First, there’s the obvious reason: he played for Cleveland (2016) and Texas (part of 2015) while Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were employed by their respective teams, so the front office is familiar with him. At 36 years of age, he’s likely to be considered for the “veteran presence” role that was held by Chris Gimenez last season, so his addition likely would be to mentor the younger players on the roster.
As for his fit on the baseball field, there are parts that are clear and some that aren’t so clear. The Twins struggled last season against lefthanded pitchers, and as a righthanded power threat that can also draw a walk, Napoli would be a reasonably cheap antidote. Of course, that means getting him into the lineup, but there is a solution and it doesn’t involve putting Sano in right field again. As mentioned above, the current Twins roster would typically have Mauer at first base, Sano at third, and Grossman or Vargas at DH, though Sano might slide to DH or first base with Eduardo Escobar playing third against a lefthanded pitcher. With Napoli in the mix against LHP, he’d either replace Mauer at first base (keeping Escobar on the bench) or Grossman/Vargas at DH. Since Escobar only has a .743 OPS and 99 wRC+ against LHP in his career, Grossman’s best offensive trait is that he draws walks, and Vargas is probably still considered unproven, it can be seen why Napoli (who had a .751 OPS against LHP last season despite hitting only .196) could be considered as a better offensive threat than any of those three.
Granted, Napoli isn’t guaranteed to be better offensively than anyone else currently on the roster. He did undergo surgery this offseason to fix a torn ligament in his hand, so perhaps that’s why he had such poor offensive stats last year. If the Twins are serious about signing him, they could use those poor stats as a reason to buy low on Chris Gimenez With Power. It’s questionable with how much value he’d contribute on the field, but I think the Twins would be most interested in what he could provide off the field instead.