Rumor: Rays Interested in Mike Napoli?

Man, this has been a busy day. According to Stan McNeal from the Sporting News

While the Rays are rumored to be talking with Johnny Damon and Vladimir Guerrero to fill their void at designated hitter, they also are targeting the Angels' Mike Napoli via trade, according to a source.

Napoli would fit for the Rays as a righthanded bat at first base and catcher, where he could split time with lefthanded-hitting Dan Johnson and John Jaso.

Mike Napoli is essentially an improved version of Kelly Shoppach: he's a right-handed, power-hitting, defensively challenged catcher. He walks a bit less than Shoppach (9% versus 10%) and strikes out a little less often (30% vs. 35%), but he also hits for more power (26 homeruns last season, .230 ISO). He also mashes lefty pitchers, posting a .397 wOBA against them on his career.

The Angels don't have a spot for Napoli at the moment, seeing as they have Jeff Mathis and top prospect Hank Conger at catcher, Kendry Morales at first, and they're pursuing a DH bat on the market. He's an expensive bat to keep on the bench, seeing as he'll likely make around $5-6M in arbitration this year, so the Angels could be motivated to unload him.

On one hand, this rumor makes sense: Napoli would be an offensive upgrade and would be able to slide between catcher, first base, and DH as needed. The Angels might be willing to get rid of him for a lower price, considering it's either that or pay Napoli $5M to be a bench player, and Shoppach could be traded away for a reliever. At the same time, what would this mean about Robinson Chirinos, the catcher acquiring in the Matt Garza trade? I had assumed that Chirinos would start the year in Triple-A, but could make the big league club sometime during the season. If this trade were to happen, though, even with his flexibility he'd likely be hard pressed to find at bats with the Rays this season.

There's no way to tell exactly how interested the Rays are in Napoli - this could be nothing more than a due diligence call, or an effort to show the free agent DHs that the Rays don't need them - so we're going to need to be patient. If nothing else, I think this shows the Rays are only getting started this off-season.

UPDATE: So apparently, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Blue Jays just acquired Mike Napoli from the Angels. How many players have the Jays stolen from us this off-season now? It's like they've decided any player the Rays are interested in must be good, so they'll just swoop in and steal them all. Lovely.

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