Print and Go Back ESPN.com: 2012 [Print without images]

Monday, December 3, 2012
Updated: December 4, 12:19 PM ET
Napoli's value goes up with Red Sox

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Fantasy baseball affords us two luxuries: The ability to largely ignore defense, and the option to use players at their secondary real-life positions, so long as they qualify, if their primary positions are ones more easily filled in our game.

Mike Napoli grants us both of these.

Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli will still be eligible at catcher for the 2013 season, but he may not play there much with the Red Sox.

The Boston Red Sox's latest acquisition, Napoli is a mediocre defensive catcher who more than likely will receive the bulk of his playing time at first base, though in fantasy he'll remain eligible behind the plate thanks to 72 games played there in 2012, even if he doesn't appear there for the Red Sox in a single game in 2013. Napoli is your quintessential "designated hitter" of a catcher; he'll probably see as much time away from the plate as behind it.

Here's the best part: Though defense can matter in our game if it convinces a team to reduce a player's playing time, in Napoli's case that's unlikely to happen. His reported three-year, $39 million contract assures him everyday at-bats at whatever level of production, if only so that the Red Sox can attempt to recoup enough value. If he's capable -- and that's a big "if" -- he might make a run at his career highs of 140 games played and 510 plate appearances, set in 2010.

Moving from Rangers Ballpark, one of the best hitting environments in baseball, to Fenway Park shouldn't adversely impact Napoli's power numbers as you might think. Oddly enough, during his two seasons with the Texas Rangers, he managed .260/.375/.513 offensive rates and 25 home runs (one per 15.4 at-bats) at home but .294/.388/.578 rates with 32 home runs (one per 12.4 at-bats) on the road, so he wasn't entirely a ballpark-inflated slugger.

Napoli is more fly ball/line drive hitter than your average player, his 39.3 percent rate of ground balls 158th out of 193 players who had at least 400 plate appearances last season, he pulled 30 of his 57 home runs during his Rangers career to left field and his average fly ball traveled 23 feet farther than the average player's last season. He might be a great fit for Fenway, its Green Monster helping bolster his extra-base and home run totals. If homers, RBIs and slugging percentage are your target, he's well worth a look.

That said, injuries sapped Napoli's skills last season, as he has made trips to the disabled list in each of the past two years and battled nagging bumps and bruises throughout the 2012 campaign, so again, those 140/510 numbers in terms of games and PAs might be overzealous. On a per-game basis, he warrants top-10 -- or "starter" in ESPN standard leagues -- status at catcher. With the move, he vaults back into my top 10 at the position, keeping in mind that the margin between my No. 8 (Salvador Perez) and No. 13 (Brian McCann) backstops is razor thin.

Might the Red Sox consider trading Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway, their 2012 catchers, following Napoli's acquisition? Probably, and Saltalamacchia's value would at this point be greater if he's dealt than if he stays put. A lifetime .203/.256/.335 hitter against lefties, Saltalamacchia would likely sit against every southpaw, and the prospect of some lost at-bats against right-handers would sap his counting numbers (runs, homers, RBIs).