Mac Engel

Mike Napoli is solid short-term fix to Rangers’ long-term problem

Rangers GM Jon Daniels assesses the club's DH and first base options

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said the club will keep its options open regarding an everyday designated hitter and first baseman (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).
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Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said the club will keep its options open regarding an everyday designated hitter and first baseman (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Prince Fielder is gone but his presence continues to be felt throughout the Texas Rangers.

First base should be his, or at a minimum occupied by an anchor of production. Plop a big fat guy there and let him bomb it into that cozy porch in right field.

What’s Pete Incaviglia doing these days? Or Steve Balboni?

The traffic in Arlington remains almost as problematic as first base. It’s one of those positions the Rangers have not been able to solve since they traded Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves in 2007 for what still feels like that organization’s entire farm system.

The Rangers’ infield is one of the best in the American League despite the fact that first base remains a source of persistent frustration.

There is nothing not to like about bringing back Mike Napoli back on one-year deal, except that it feels like a slightly desperate move to solve a problem that’s still a problem.

Chris Davis, Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland and Prince were the solutions that didn’t solve it, which is why GM/President/Assistant manager Jon Daniels is bringing back The Napster.

Per the rules of the 40-man roster, the club can’t announce the move just yet, but it’s coming.

The Rangers reportedly have agreed to a one-year deal with Mike Napoli for $8.5 million. It includes a team option for a second year.

JD would not comment on this pending deal Wednesday at the Ballpark, but this is a formality. Adding Nap is a risky move, and not a long-term fix.

He’s a 35-year-old man who continues to squeeze out long hits despite a body that always appears to be one swing away from the disabled list. He’s not unlike Colby Lewis, who by now we should expect to be a 10-game winner until 2059. These guys simply find a way to produce because they know baseball and their bodies.

The team waited out Napoli long enough to make this happen; he wanted two years guaranteed from a decent team, but this was his best option.

It’s reportedly a one-year deal for $8.5 million with a club-option of a second year. Of the DH/first basemen available this off-season — Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Carter — Napoli was not the best player but the best fit for this team.

In these situations, take the guy you know. What the Rangers know is the same thing everyone else knows in baseball: this dude wins.

He made it to the World Series with the Rangers, the Red Sox and last year with the Indians.

If not for the horrors of Game 6, Napoli already would be featured prominently in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for his performance with the Rangers in the 2011 World Series.

In 2016 with the Cleveland Indians, Napoli made 645 plate appearances and hit 34 home runs with 101 RBI. The two latter figures are career highs.

We forget that in that seven-game series he batted .350 with one double, two home runs and 10 RBIs. The Hall of Fame was all set to feature his bat and helmet prominently to commemorate that 2011 series.

The man is wonderful in a clubhouse and he understands the job. You want this guy around, even if he can’t hit .250.

He may never be the guy he was with the Rangers the first time, but as witnessed last season in Cleveland, when he hit 34 home runs with 101 RBIs, he still has a powerful swing ... when he connects. He whiffed 194 times last season and batted only .239.

Nonetheless, he is the immediate answer to this club’s question of Who’s on First?

Guys like Joey Gallo, Jurickson Profar, Drew Robinson, Ryan Rua and Josh Hamilton were all expected to get looks at first base this spring but the addition of Napoli ends that.

(While the Rangers are busy bringing their old guys back, maybe they should get Nelson Cruz, too.)

Adding Napoli does not mean this search at first should be over. He’s a major downgrade defensively from Moreland, who never consistently produced despite so much promise. Moreland had his flaws but defense was not one of them.

On Wednesday, JD raved about Robinson. The team is desperate to get Profar at-bats, even if it means playing at a position he should not — first base.

Mike Napoli has played in four American League Championship Series and three World Series.

“He has the skill set to play all over the diamond,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said Wednesday.

He does. But that doesn’t mean Profar is a first baseman.

The player the team should be grooming is Gallo, whose rise was derailed by a hasty promotion from Double A to the big club. The struggles he predictably endured as a rookie damaged his confidence and this season figures to be one spent in the minors.

He may be a poor man’s Justin Smoak or Chris Davis.

Of course, this was position was supposed to be Prince’s. We know how that turned out. After he was acquired in 2014, he was hurt, had one brilliant half, and was hurt again. Then he was moved to DH. Then he was hurt. Then he retired.

Technically he’s still with the team and JD said they are still exploring the idea of Prince doing something in some capacity, but his playing days are over.

That’s why Napoli is here and while it will be nice to have him back, he’s not a long-term solution.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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