Will There Be Any More Parties at Napoli’s?

A general manager’s job is never done. After the final out of Game 7 was recorded, Indians GM Mike Chernoff had to go back to work. He had no time to celebrate the Tribe’s amazing postseason run that saw them come one run short of a championship. He could not rest because of two simple words: qualifying offer.

For five days after the World Series, and probably a few months before, teams must debate whether or not they should extend a qualifying offer to their players who will become free agents. It’s a contract offer for one year worth the average salary of the highest-paid 125 players in the majors, which is $17.2 million this off-season. If the player declines the offer and signs elsewhere, his former team gets draft pick compensation after the first round and his new team loses their first round pick.

Mike Napoli was the only player on the Tribe roster who management probably thought about extending the offer to (Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis were also eligible). When the 5 p.m. deadline passed yesterday and the Tribe declined to submit the offer, Napoli became a free agent with no strings attached.

Did Tribe management make the right choice? No doubt they did.

First, though, let’s focus on the positive contributions Napoli made to the club. He was the right-handed power bat the team so desperately needed, tying Carlos Santana for the team lead in home runs (34) and providing a powerful presence in the middle of the order. He added valuable veteran leadership on a club filled with younger players that made a deep playoff run. And he became a fan-favorite after embracing the “Party at Napoli’s” movement.

However, Napoli had his weak spots as well. And lots of them too. He struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances and racked up 194 strikeouts in just 150 games. He also was a liability both in the field and on the bases. Among first basemen with at least 800 innings, he ranked seventh to last in defensive runs saved and fourth to last in UZR/150, another advanced defensive metric. Running the bases, Napoli was just as bad. He took the extra base only 33% of the time, compared to the league average of 40%.

There’s also Napoli’s age and prior track record to consider. He turned 35 years old on the final Monday of the postseason, which is not particularly on the younger side, especially for a lumbering first baseman who used to catch. Though athletes are doing far better in their older years than they ever have (looking at you, David Ortiz and Bartolo Colon), it’s hard to imagine Napoli replicating his 2016 season. He’s just been too inconsistent. From 2013-2015 he averaged 130 games, 19 home runs, a .245/.352/.440 slash line and 136 strikeouts. There’s a reason he cost the Tribe just $7 million last winter; no one knew whether he could be a powerful bat. And despite this solid season, those doubts still remain.

Napoli’s power surge, including a career high in home runs, could also just be a result of inflated numbers across the league. Every 33 plate appearances, a home run was hit in a Major League game, the highest mark in 30 years. Remember that 30 years includes the steroid era when balls were flying over the fences. Thus, Napoli could be in for a whole lot of regression unless there has been a change to the baseball, as some have speculated.

Despite correctly not offering Napoli a qualifying offer, the Indians are still interested in re-signing the slugger. Given all the reasons listed above, it might not be the best idea. He will be commanding a larger salary than what he earned this season, and perhaps will be looking for a multi-year deal. For a small market team, the investment is not worth the risk.

Sorry Tribe fans, it looks like the raucous parties at Napoli’s will be coming to an end. It will be better than the alternative: an overpriced, lame party at Napoli’s.

Photo: AP Photo/LM Otero

Cleveland Indians 2016 AL Champs

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