How Napoli could've helped Angels bullpen

Mike Napoli

NapoliThe Los Angeles Angels didn’t make any moves Tuesday, yet the team’s offseason managed to become even more bizarre.

Last week, the Angels traded catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder/DH Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Vernon Wells. As the trade was almost entirely about dumping salary for the Blue Jays, the inclusion of Napoli and Rivera can be viewed as a throw-in from the Angels side to help mitigate the impending payroll increase.

That trade has been analyzed by many, but it became even more perplexing Tuesday.

Did You Know on Mike Napoli?

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that among players to debut since 1900 -- and play at least 400 regular season games at catcher -- only Mike Piazza has fewer AB per HR than Napoli. But of his 2010 home runs, 42 percent of them had "just enough" to get out of the park, meaning the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These HRs barely made it over the fence. Napoli's 2010 HRs:
-- Zack Singer

Why? Because on Tuesday, Toronto traded Napoli to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco. While neither of those names is front-page material, it relates directly to the core issues: the Angels undervaluing Napoli, and their offseason-long pursuit of relief pitching.

On December 2, 2010, the Angels signed Hisanori Takahashi to a two-year, $8 million deal. Ten days later, they signed Scott Downs to a three-year, $15 million contract. Clearly, the bullpen was an area in which the Angels were looking to invest.

While Downs has been a consistently good reliever, and Takahashi showed the ability in his first major-league season last year, Francisco has also shown that ability.

Rather than committing multiple years to multiple relievers, the Angels could have used a commodity (Napoli) to acquire a high-strikeout pitcher for the back end of the bullpen (Francisco). While Downs is solid, predicting reliever performance two or three years down the line is difficult.

The Angels would have been on the hook for just one year with Francisco instead of multiple years for Downs and Takahashi, not to mention at a lower yearly rate.

To make matters worse, the Angels surrendered a second-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft to the Blue Jays when they signed Downs.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching 2010 Season

So, while the Wells trade made headlines, the peripheral moves have been filled with questions.

Francisco has equaled Downs in Wins Above Replacement the last three seasons (3.6), while posting a significantly higher strikeout rate per nine innings (10.6 to 7.5).

Although both Downs and Takahashi might have been effective last season, it’s an issue of efficiency. The Angels spent $23 million on free agent relievers, when Napoli could have been moved to acquire a much less expensive reliever of similar value.