2016 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2016 Fantasy Baseball: Indians to Sign Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis

Most watercooler discussion surrounding the Cleveland Indians’ offseason has mainly focused on them being the seemingly ideal landing spot for the Chicago’s Jorge Soler. The Cubs decision to sign Jason Heyward has made the young prospect expendable and it appears that all Chicago has left to accomplish this offseason is possibly adding another starting pitcher. A Soler for Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco trade probably seems very appetizing to the Cubbies, but it doesn’t look like the Indians are in “sell-mode” quite yet.

Cleveland made two signings today, and while neither really shook up the MLB pipeline, it is interesting to see what they are doing. The Indians are an organization with no real crystal clear direction. They finished in third place for the second straight year, and have not won a division title since 2007. They have a fairly young core of players and four talented starting pitchers with plus-stuff (Salazar, Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer), but in the ever-improving American League Central, they have struggled to keep pace with the top ball clubs.

Ken Rosenthal reported today that the Indians have signed 34-year-old Mike Napoli to a one year deal worth $7MM pending a physical. Napoli’s deal will also include $3MM worth of incentives, and to this point, he is slated to be the team’s starting first baseman on Opening Day. This gives Cleveland the flexibility to use Carlos Santana as more of a DH and simultaneously improves their club’s defense. After coming up with the Angels as a catcher, Napoli has worked incredibly hard to make himself a great defensive first baseman, and he still rates as an above-average defender at the position despite his quickly aging body.

The Indians also brought on journeyman outfielder Rajai Davis for additional depth being that All-Star Michael Brantley will likely be out until May with a shoulder injury. Davis doesn’t provide the same defensive boost as Napoli, but the 35-year-old has played at least 700 innings at all three outfield positions and will provide some speed off the bench if he accepts that role upon Brantley’s return.

Bringing two veterans into a fairly young Cleveland clubhouse should help the team, but whether or not they will be able to compete with the likes of the Minnesota Twins or defending champion Kansas City Royals will depend mostly on what version Napoli they are getting.

2015 was a bit of an odd season for Napoli. He was traded halfway through the year from the Red Sox back to the Rangers; the team he won a ring with back to the team he lost two with. Napoli found himself in more of a platoon role last year but really played well down the stretch to help Texas take the American League West by hitting .283 and absolutely hammering lefties. His slashline was .278/.391/.563 against lefthanded pitching, compared to his abysmal .191/.283/.320 against righties. Never in his career has Napoli had such a dramatic of a split between the two; however, he surprisingly had a better walk rate and strikeout percentage against righties. It’s perplexing to say the least, but what really matters is if he will be able to stay consistent as an everyday player again. Napoli hit .224/.324/.410 with 18 home runs and 50 RBI in 133 games in 2015 and he is most definitely declining. He has seen a steady drop off in his slugging and hard contact percentages each of the last three seasons despite his excellent pitch selection at the plate (his career O-Swing% is 24.5, which is the percent of pitches swung at outside strike zone).

Napoli is more of a “wait and see” type of fantasy player in my eyes for 2016. He’s an intelligent hitter having spent so much time in the big leagues, but whether or not his body will cooperate is another issue entirely. It was a good deal for the Indians in terms of years and dollars, but as a fantasy owner, I’d be hesitant to waste a draft pick on his name alone. If he does hang around till the later rounds, though, then by all means, take a shot using him off the bench.

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