Rangers use a little luck to get Napoli back

Rangers use a little luck to get Napoli back

PHOENIX -- The Indians wanted first baseman Mike Napoli back and they might have pulled it off if Edwin Encarnacion had not fallen into their lap.

The Indians ended up signing Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million deal and the Rangers, after a month of stalled negotiations, signed Napoli to a one-year, $8.5 million contract.

But the Indians went into the offseason wanting to re-sign Napoli and could have easily kept him from eventually going to Texas.

"Nap was a big priority for us," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said at the Cactus League Media Day. "He had a big impact on our team on the field, in the clubhouse and with the development of our young players. We would not have had the season we had last year without Nap."

Napoli was with the Indians for one year and hit .239 with 34 home runs, 101 RBIs and a .465 slugging percentage. The Indians ended up winning the American League Central and advanced to the World Series before losing to the Cubs. Napoli emerged as one of the Indians' team leaders and played in the postseason for the eighth time in 10 years.

"I knew they had a chance to win," Napoli said. "They had great pitching. I knew that before I signed them. It was just about learning to bring it daily and expecting to win every day."

That's the kind of leadership that Napoli brings beyond just providing power in the middle of the order.

"I thought we had such a good culture," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It was not single-handed, but he had a large share of our attitude as far as being fearless. He had a way to impact everybody. The numbers were tremendous, but what he brought was also impactful."

The market for Encarnacion, Napoli, Mark Trumbo and other power bats moved slowly this offseason. The Rangers were among the teams that moved quicker to fill pitching needs before addressing their offense. They were in touch with Napoli from the beginning of the offseason, but their first two moves were signing free-agent pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.

There seemed to be a flurry of hope just after Christmas that the Rangers were going to get something done with Napoli. As the offseason moved into the new year, Napoli, Encarnacion and Trumbo remained unsigned, but the situation in Cleveland was changing.

"At the outset of the offseason, we had an understanding of our financial flexibility," Antonetti said. "But as the offseason progressed, our owners became more willing to make financial adjustments and bet our fans would continue their outstanding support. Once that and some of the free-agent prices dropped, those two aligned so we could get something done with Edwin."

The Indians announced their agreement with Encarnacion on Jan. 5. Two weeks later, the Orioles re-signed Trumbo for three years and $37.5 million. The Rangers, unwilling to do a multi-year deal, didn't get their deal done with Napoli until February.

"I knew what Nap was asking for and I was still hoping he could fall back to us," Francona said. "Then Edwin happened quickly. We're excited to get Edwin, but it's bittersweet. When I knew we weren't going to get Nap back, that was hard. But I didn't think he wanted to be a right-handed pinch-hitter."

Instead he will be the Rangers' first baseman. It took a long time to consummate a deal that many speculated was a foregone conclusion.

"I wasn't sure until the end," Texas GM Jon Daniels said. "Between some of the other clubs, I heard Minnesota offered more, I didn't think it was a foregone conclusion."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com 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.