Mike Napoli is a luxury the Yankees can’t afford
In the abstract, few free agents could help the Yankees as much as Mike Napoli.
The 31-year-old catcher, who can also play first base or serve as a designated hitter, is one of the best bats on the free agent market this winter. The Yankees need a catcher, with Russell Martin a free agent, and talented prospect Gary Sanchez still at least a year away, if not more. The talent on the market this winter is perilously thin in other areas, like outfield or starting pitcher. And, accordingly, reports have the Yankees interested in Napoli.
So what's the hold-up?
In a pre-2014 world, there is no hold-up. But the Yankees have every intention of getting payroll under $189 million, given the luxury tax penalties they'd incur above that level. And not only do they already have a significant amount of payroll committed for 2014, they have it committed to people who would compete with Napoli for playing time.
Right now, the Yankees have $73.5 million committed to three players in 2014: C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Derek Jeter is also on a team-friendly $8-million player option, which would take the Yankees up to $81.5 million.
Assuming Jeter ages well and accepts that salary, the Yankees still have just $108.5 million to spend on the rest of the roster. Other pressing concerns, like an extension for Robinson Cano, and the necessary costs for a starting rotation and outfield, will quickly eat up that remaining money.
So giving Napoli the roughly three years, $30 million he can expect to receive this winter, conservatively, needs to be money well spent. It can't be for a part-time player. And yet, Napoli would appear to be that, given the other Yankees already in the fold.
Napoli is valuable because he is a plus bat who catches. But he hasn't caught regularly at any point in his career, with a career-high of just 96 games behind the plate back in 2009. Last season in Texas, he caught 72 games, played first base in 28 more, and served as designated hitter in nine games.
But on the 2013 Yankees, anytime Napoli isn't catching, he's going to need to play somewhere. If that somewhere is first base, it comes at the expense of Teixeira. If that somewhere is designated hitter, it comes at the expense of time there for Rodriguez or Jeter. And each time he does, the Yankees will need to deploy a catcher. Even if Napoli reaches his career high in games caught, that's still roughly 65 games unaccounted for behind the plate.
In the meantime, the Yankees will be paying him plenty, and still have an entire outfield to fill in 2014, assuming Curtis Granderson isn't signed to an extension this offseason. And their rotation from 2012 includes Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, a pair of aging starters not under contract for 2013, let alone 2014. Losing either, or both, will require a multi-year deal for a replacement, or a huge downgrade in talent.
So Mike Napoli is certainly a luxury item for the New York Yankees. He's just not a practical one.
The math for Napoli is different on a team where he can catch 80-90 games, play first base for another 40, and D.H. for another 30. But that team isn't the Yankees.