Commentary

Mike Napoli's value rises yet again

Updated: January 25, 2011, 5:23 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Well, that was quick.

Only four days after he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays (and one day after our spin of the move), Mike Napoli is on the move again, this time to the Texas Rangers, in exchange for right-handed reliever Frank Francisco.

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesMike Napoli finished 8th among catchers in the 2010 Player Rater.

Napoli's fantasy prospects, which improved upon his move north of the border, continue to rise with his arrival in Texas. Just as with the Blue Jays, Napoli should split his time between catcher, first base and designated hitter, though he'll presumably get the bulk of them behind the plate, whereas in Toronto he'd probably have done so at DH. Considering the Rangers' only other competition at catcher is a trio of "T's" -- Taylor Teagarden, Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor -- none of whom has a lifetime OPS within even 100 points of Napoli, their first baseman Mitch Moreland is left-handed and their DH Michael Young might be spotting in all over the infield, there should still be 500-plus plate appearances available for Napoli.

Napoli's lifetime numbers at Rangers Ballpark -- .292/.394/.573 with six home runs in 104 plate appearances -- merely scrape the surface of his potential while playing half his games there. While Monday's Napoli-to-Toronto spin demonstrated the advantages of Rogers Centre compared to Angel Stadium, Rangers Ballpark has consistently rated among the top home run parks in baseball, ranking among the top seven on our Park Factors page in each of the past three seasons. My midseason ballpark analysis also showed that it ranked one spot higher than Rogers Centre in terms of home runs from 2005-10, meaning his prospects of 30-plus homers are even stronger.

In other words, if Napoli was a possible top-five fantasy catcher in Toronto, he's an even stronger candidate for that status in Texas.

Francisco, meanwhile, becomes perhaps the most suited option to close for the Blue Jays, even if he's the least experienced, at least in terms of career saves. He'll compete with Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch, among others, for the role. Francisco throws harder than Dotel and Rauch, and in the past three seasons he has the lowest ERA (3.54) and WHIP (1.18) of the trio, despite calling Rangers Ballpark his home. That's no guarantee of the job, but if you're picking on talent alone, Francisco and Dotel are probably the top two options, and will duke it out during spring training.

Of course, that means neither Dotel nor Francisco are safe draft-day selections, at least not until an announcement is made regarding which one will be the Opening Day closer. Handcuffing the two might be a necessary strategy in many cases, and there's also a good chance one reliever won't hold the role the entire season. After all, Francisco lost his closer job with the Rangers early last year, and Dotel, a closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates to begin the year, was demoted to setup relief following trades to the Los Angeles Dodgers and then Colorado Rockies.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.

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