Sep 14, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers left fielder Mike Napoli (25) is tagged out at home plate by Houston Astros catcher Hank Conger (16) during the second inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Cleveland Indians lost out on Todd Frazier, but the Tribe moved on by signing free agents Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis. These additions don’t have the same sizzle as Frazier, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Indians are a better team with latest newcomers.
Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis both agreed to one-year deals on Wednesday with the Indians, marking the first significant moves this offseason by adding a pair of actual major leaguers. Already, the Napoli move is being criticized in the comments section of every news release about the deal, while Davis’ acquisition hasn’t exactly been warmly received either.
These two additions, though, come at a combined cost of just over $12 million, not accounting for the extra $3 million Napoli can earn if he hits a certain amount of incentives.
It’s important to keep in mind something I mentioned before when talking about potential outfield upgrades (of which Davis was one): The Indians are not going to spend a ton of money and bring in a marquee free agent.
Oct 11, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli (25) during batting practice before the game against the Toronto Blue Jays in game three of the ALDS at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Remember, the Royals “big” offseason addition last year was Kendrys Morales. Not exactly the biggest name in free agency last winter. Even with Pedro Alvarez, Justin Upton , and even Chris Davis still on the market, the Indians were never going to be serious contenders for their services.
Additionally, the biggest prospects in the minors are all outfielders, so the type of big-money deal needed to get one of the big free agents was going to potentially block one of either Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer from reaching the big leagues.
So what kind of impact will the newest Indians make? Let’s talk about each player separately to give them their due.
Mike Napoli, 1B, DH, Emergency Catcher
I am more excited about the Davis deal, but Napoli is the better addition. A right-handed power bat is something that has been missing from this line up for some time. Heck, even a power bat from the left side has been missing (no, Carlos Santana doesn’t count). Critics will point to his .224 average and age as reasons why not to sign him, but this deal is exactly the type of modest, low risk move that the Indians can make and is the same type of subtle moves the Astros (Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus) and the Royals (Morales) made last year to make the playoffs.
But let’s consider that fact that after Napoli shook off injuries and a slow start, he hit .283 after the break with a .903 OPS, both of which are upgrades over Carlos Santana. Even Napoli’s -0.5 WAR defensively is an upgrade from Santana’s -1.4. Even if he settles around his career average of .253, it will at least provide more pop than Santana’s .231 average. More so, Napoli lengthens the line up not just with hits, but with power potential.
Rajai Davis, OF
Davis has played all over the outfield in his career and played most of his games in center field for the Tigers last season. As I noted last week, Davis has plenty of experience in the AL Central and has always been a positive addition to whichever roster he was on. More importantly, Davis can play both center and left, especially until Michael Brantley returns. Abe Almonte and Davis will compete for the starting center field spot if Tyler Naquin sticks in AAA, leaving Collin Cowgill as the fourth outfielder early on.
Sep 3, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Detroit Tigers out fielder Rajai Davis (20) looks on during batting practice prior to a game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Davis hit .258 last season with a .746 OPS. But what jumps out is his speed. Davis had 11 triples in 2015 and even though he only had 18 stolen bases last season, he had averaged 40 stolen bases in the four seasons prior and had not had fewer than 20 stolen bases in a full season since 2007. Aside from Francisco Lindor or Jason Kipnis, this team was devoid of true speed on the base paths. Davis gives the Tribe that in bunches both on offense and defense. Additionally, his ability to play all three outfield positions will give Terry Francona better options in the outfield in the event of an injury than last year, where Mike Aviles, Jerry Sands, and Ryan Raburn saw too many meaningful at bats in the corners and were liabilities on defense. Davis is at least a positive DWAR player in the outfield at 0.2. Remember, not one outfield position player was above zero last year except for Lonnie Chisenhall.
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What will the Indians line up look like?
It’s tough to gauge right now without the rumored trades with the Cubs or Dodgers going through. But as it stands at the moment, I would imagine the order would look as follows:
- Jason Kipnis, 2B
- Rajai Davis, LF
- Francisco Lindor, SS
- Mike Napoli, 1B
- Carlos Santana, DH
- Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
- Yan Gomes, C
- Chris Johnson, 3B
- Abe Almonte, CF
Note that I do not have Giovanny Urshela starting the year as the every day third baseman and he may not be in Cleveland in April. Also, Brantley’s injury obviously takes him out of the line up, initially. I think Davis plays left field given Almonte has already played in center for the Tribe. Granted, I’ve already written that I think Tyler Naquin can and should win the starting job in center, which would push Almonte to the bench. Also, Lindor is the ideal number three hitter with Brantley out of the line up and can bump back to the two spot once the All-Start left fielder is healthy.
While Napoli and Davis won’t make the Tribe World Series contenders, they do make this team deeper and more talented.
These moves aren’t going to send Tribe fans running to buy their season tickets, it does make the on field product better. After all, this is Cleveland. We should have more realistic expectations that a major free agent signing.