Napoli remains on radar for Rangers at first base

Free-agent slugger could be best offensive option at position

Napoli remains on radar for Rangers at first base

ARLINGTON -- Michael Young and Cole Hamels brought a few former teammates to their youth clinic on Saturday to serve as special instructors. Young, now a special assistant in the Rangers' front office, was asked if he brought Mike Napoli with him. He chuckled and shook his head.

"That's one of those things that will go down to the wire, and Nap is comfortable with that," Young said. "He has been a free agent before. He is probably waiting for something he is comfortable with. As a friend, I hope he gets something he is comfortable with."

Hot Stove Tracker

Napoli used to be comfortable in the Rangers' clubhouse with a locker right next to Young in 2011-12. Young was retired when Napoli returned for a brief engagement with Texas at the end of the 2015 season.

Now everybody is waiting to see if there will be another reunion between former player and club. The situation continues to drag and the suspense isn't going to end until either the two sides reach an agreement on length and value of contract, or Napoli signs with another team.

Napoli has never made it a secret how much he likes Texas, where he still is a fan favorite. There is a strong possibility Napoli would have been the Most Valuable Player of the 2011 World Series if the Rangers had retired the third out of the ninth inning in Game 6.

The Rangers retain a high opinion of Napoli, reinforced by reacquiring him for the stretch run in 2015 and awkwardly wedging him into the lineup as a novice left fielder.

Napoli is far more suited for either first base or designated hitter, which is exactly what the Rangers still have a potential need for on their 2017 team. General manager Jon Daniels admitted he is open to adding a first base/DH type if it fits "financially," but added he would be content to go with what Texas has now.

That's the appropriately coy response for a situation that remains unresolved even though the two sides have been in contact since the beginning of the offseason.

Banister on Rangers' 1B options

Who knows how far apart they are, but as Daniels has said in the past, things can change quickly with one phone call. The Rangers didn't sign Ian Desmond until the end of February last year.

Right now, Texas has a mixed bag of candidates to play first base.

Josh Hamilton will attempt to play first base even though he hasn't played there since he was a teenager on his American Legion team and even though he missed last season while recovering from left knee surgery. The Rangers most realistic hope for Hamilton may be to get 400-plus at-bats at DH.

Hamilton returns to Rangers

• First base is one of multiple positions Ryan Rua can play and his versatility remains a significant asset for the Rangers. He also the ability to be a significant offensive producer over a full season with regular bats, although he needs to shed the "right-handed platoon hitter" label.

Rua's solo dinger

Jurickson Profar remains a superbly talented player without a position. He belongs in the middle of the infield, but the Rangers have no vacancy there. He seems out of position at first, but his off-the-charts baseball aptitude allows him to fit anywhere. Profar desperately wants to be an everyday shortstop, but he is blocked by Elvis Andrus.

Profar shows off his speed

Joey Gallo is the most intriguing candidate because of his tremendous offensive potential. The question is if the Rangers are ready to take a leap of faith or get him more development time at Triple-A Round Rock. If Gallo begins the season at Round Rock and gets off to a fast start, he won't stay long.

Gallo's solo homer

James Loney is the ultimate low-cost insurance card: a well-respected 11-year veteran who is a solid defender and a professional hitter. He can cover a team at first if not expected to do much. Loney has a career-high 15 home runs, he hasn't driven in over 75 runs since 2010 and his career slugging percentage is .410. He is in camp on a Minor League contract, but he is the only candidate with any real experience at playing first base.

Loney's nice diving stop

Will Middlebrooks has been primarily at third baseman through his career, but he has played first base on occasion, which puts him right up there with most of the other candidates. He is 28 and was once a big-time hitting prospect for the Red Sox.

Middlebrooks' first hit

Anybody able to play first base is also a candidate to be the designated hitter. The potential DH list also has to include Shin-Soo Choo. He is the Rangers' right fielder, but they have the option of putting Delino DeShields in center, moving Carlos Gomez to right and having Choo be the DH. He is not eager to do that more than one or two times a week.

There are question marks to all of the above. Napoli, on the other hand, is well-known, having hit .239 with 34 home runs, 101 RBIs and a .465 slugging percentage for the Indians last season.

Napoli could clear up a lot of questions on the Rangers' offense.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.