The Mike Napoli trade adds a veteran, right-handed bat to the bench and someone who can play catcher, first base and designated hitter when needed. So it impacts a lot of different areas of the team and creates some questions.
Q: How will the playing time be divided?
A: That's something manager Ron Washington and his coaching staff must figure out as spring training progresses. But assuming the players impacted all stay with the Rangers, are healthy after spring training and on the roster, there is a way to divide time and make this work.
Michael Young is supposed to be the club's primary DH and super-utility guy. He can still do that with Napoli on the roster. Napoli can be a power right-handed bat, an insurance policy and an important bench player. He could play first base against tough left-handers (or even DH and let Young play first in those situations). And since he batted .305 against lefties last year, he's a good option to have against the southpaws. He could catch some, if necessary, and be ready to jump in if injuries pop up (and we know they do from time to time). If he's not starting, he's a nice power bat to have off the bench late in games.
Washington has stressed wanting to get Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre some time off their feet to keep them fresh. Anytime he does that, Young would play the field and that would open up the DH slot for someone else, including Napoli.
Q: Could the Rangers head into Opening Day with three catchers on the roster?
A: Yes, they could. There's always a chance that could change between now and the end of March, but general manager Jon Daniels said Tuesday that he plans on going into the season with all three catchers on the roster.
Yorvit Torrealba is the No. 1 catcher with Matt Treanor as his backup right now. That would leave Napoli as the emergency catcher or someone who could go in late in games or if an injury occurs. It's never a bad thing to have someone who can catch. As we saw last year, injuries happen behind the plate (Treanor was injured for a while).
Q: Does the trade impact Young's playing time?
A: I asked Daniels that question Tuesday on the conference call with reporters. His answer: "No. I don’t think it has any direct impact other than it improves the club and gives us a better chance to win. It's not about sitting here in January and detailing who's going to get what at-bats. He's a winning player and that's why we got him."
The answer to that question will depend on how Napoli is utilized. But if he's a bench bat and a guy that plays first base against left-handers, it won't have to impact Young much. Young can still DH in those situations or play the infield.
Q: Does this mean Neftali Feliz is going to close and not start?
A: We discussed that point on the blog Tuesday. The club says that hasn't been decided, but Daniels acknowledged Tuesday that there is a short-term ramification and that the trade has to "impact our thinking a little bit." I would be surprised if Feliz is moved to the bullpen now. Trading Frank Francisco means the club loses a guy who was the closer in 2010 before Feliz took the job. He was a steady, late-inning force. You take him away and that makes it more difficult to also pull Feliz out of the bullpen too.
The answer to the Feliz question will not only depend on what Feliz shows this spring, but maybe more so on how Mark Lowe, Alexi Ogando (the two power right-handed arms) and others perform too. But the chances of Feliz starting went down with this trade.
Q: Should the Rangers trade Young?
A: No. Judging by some comments and emails maybe I'm in the minority here, but I wouldn't. I do understand the points that some, including Ken Rosenthal, make in terms of why the club would trade him. Yes, at $16 million a season, Young is an expensive DH/super-utility player. But to simply look at the salary figure and think he must be dealt misses the overall picture.
I'm a firm believer in chemistry. Why? Because I saw it firsthand in that Rangers clubhouse in 2010. Young was the leader of the group, a respected veteran player that his teammates listened to. He was the first one to support Washington in spring training last year when the positive drug test came to light. He rallied the team (with the help of the veteran core) when they had some rocky periods. Young was a steady influence in the playoffs, making sure the club stayed focused. That's part of what you get with Young and don't discount its importance.
The trade of Adrian Beltre made the infield of the Rangers better defensively. Having an accomplished bat like Young's in the lineup every day helps too. If the club trades him, I'd have to think they'd need to pay a bunch of his remaining salary (though I never thought a team would take all but $5 million of Vernon Wells' salary either). I don't see how simply having some roster flexibility is worth paying a large portion of his remaining salary and not having his leadership and reliable bat around. But that's just me. The Rangers are a better team with Young on it.