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Mike Napoli's success at Texas makes Angels fans fume

Many consider dealing Napoli for the under-performing Vernon Wells one of the worst trades in team history. They miss Napoli's catching skills and offense, especially his high on-base percentage.

September 27, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Texas catcher and former Angel Mike Napoli hits a two-run home run during the seventh inning of the Angels' 10-3 loss Tuesday.
Texas catcher and former Angel Mike Napoli hits a two-run home run during… (Gary A. Vasquez / U.S. Presswire )

It wouldn't seem like such a bad trade if Vernon Wells, the player he was dealt for, wasn't batting a paltry .218 and didn't have a bloated contract that guarantees him $81 million through 2014.

Or if those catching for the Angels, his primary position in Anaheim from 2006 to 2010, weren't among the least productive in baseball, combining to bat .191 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs.

Or if the Angels had an offensive force such as him they could plug regularly into the designated hitter spot, one with a high on-base percentage who hits in the clutch.

Or if the Angels — and not the Texas Rangers, the team Mike Napoli wound up with in January — were gearing up for the playoffs.

Add it all up, and you have what Angels fans consider one of the worst trades in team history, one they fume about every time Wells hits a weak fly ball with runners on base, Jeff Mathis strikes out or Napoli hits a home run for Texas— which he did twice against the Angels in a 10-3 victory Tuesday.

Napoli shared catching duties with Mathis for five years, providing consistent 25-homer power and a solid on-base percentage, but he never seemed to do enough defensively to satisfy Manager Mike Scioscia, the former Dodgers catcher.

Napoli, who also plays first base, was able to catch only two games in September of 2010 because of a forearm injury. First baseman Kendrys Morales was expected back and Bobby Abreu was due to be the full-time DH, so General Manager Tony Reagins made a bold move last winter.

He traded Napoli and left fielder Juan Rivera to Toronto for Wells, a three-time Gold Glove-winning outfielder who batted .273 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs last season. The Blue Jays flipped Napoli to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco.

How's that working out for the Angels? Not quite as bad as that Scott Kazmir trade, but close.

Wells has provided some power, with 25 homers, but little else, while Napoli, whose $5.8-million salary is a fraction of what Wells ($23 million) makes this season, has had a career year in helping Texas win its second straight AL West title.

Napoli is batting .317, with a .411 on-base percentage, a .615 slugging percentage and a .376 average with runners in scoring position, the fourth-best mark in the league. He has a career-high 28 homers, 25 doubles, 72 RBIs and 57 walks in only 366 at-bats, and his .379 average since the All-Star break is the second-highest in the majors.

"We would have liked those numbers in our lineup," Angels ace Jered Weaver said. "I think he's more comfortable over there. He left here with a sour taste in his mouth, with all that talk about how he wasn't a good defensive catcher."

Napoli has been more than adequate defensively in Texas. Though he has started only 56 games behind the plate, the Rangers are 41-15 in those games.

He has thrown out 10 of 31 (32.3%) base-stealers, and his 3.19 catcher's earned-run average is the best in the AL.

"I learned a lot about catching and how to call games with the Angels, but I'm doing it my way here," Napoli said. "I always felt I could catch. It didn't pan out for me in Anaheim, but I'm glad I ended up here."

Scioscia insists he always valued Napoli's defense, and he actually gave Napoli more starts at catcher each year — Napoli's high was 84 games in 2009 — than he got this season with Texas.

"The issue was Morales was expected back, and we needed to get better in the outfield, so some decisions were made by Tony and Arte [Moreno, the Angels' owner] as to what the team would look like," Scioscia said.

"Give this some time. Vernon hasn't put up numbers you'd expect, but at the time of the decision, Mike couldn't catch. He was hurt. And to get a player of Vernon's caliber, you have to give up some talent."

Napoli has been a perfect fit for the Rangers, but to Angels fans, he's the one who got away.

"I was with the Twins when they released David Ortiz, who went on to be a great hitter and win two World Series with the Red Sox." Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said. "Sometimes, it happens. That's baseball."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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