I don’t know when Mike Napoli started to bother me, but it probably started with him watching a soft-tossed fastball fly over the middle of home plate. This seems to be a thing nowadays. If Napoli sees a single pitch that’s not on the unreachable outer half of the plate, he might consider himself lucky, and while I’d love my Red Sox to be equally lucky and good, I’d hope that they were a little of both.
Napoli is neither lucky (.232 BABIP) nor, would it seem, good. In the 4th inning of Sunday’s blowout win against the Royals, Brock Holt fielded a ground ball at deep third base and threw across the diamond to a fully stretched Napoli, who let the ball flop off the top of his glove. It was a little thing, but the little things are starting to add up for a guy who could be trade bait if he can stop stinking to high heaven.
I want to love the guy, and you probably do, too. The Napoli we want to remember is the explosively drunk, bare-chested one thumping through Boston after the Sox’s 2013 championship season, in a video that showcased the entirety of the 2013 team’s id.
Maybe he lost more than brain cells that night. Maybe his swing disappeared along with them.
In the offseason, Napoli was diagnosed with severe enough sleep apnea that he said he hadn’t dreamed in years. He was getting treatment, he said, and I think Sox fans and sleep apnea sufferers like myself (on both counts) hoped this would lead to him getting some good rest and finding his stroke.
Except for a two-week-long hot streak, he has not. He has looked miserable and lost at the plate. He is totally powerless against the outside fastball — okay, outside anything — and the pitchers know it. In the Red Sox’s best offensive performance of the year, Sunday’s 13-2 thwapping of the living All-Star team that is the Kansas City Royals, Napoli went 0-for-5. If there is a bright side, he didn’t strike out.
There’s probably no bright side, though. Napoli has traded dreamless rest for a waking nightmare, and there seems to be no sign he’s ready to turn it around. Like many of the Red Sox, he still sees a ton of pitches, and while it may or may not be time for change of approach for the team, Napoli would seem to have the most to gain from being a little bit more aggressive. The league has changed or he has or both, but the fact is that something is seriously wrong.
Napoli has traded dreamless rest for a waking nightmare, and there seems to be no sign he’s ready to turn it around.
People who cover the Red Sox far more closely than I do have suggested that the team would do well to try and trade Hanley Ramirez and/or Pablo Sandoval this year barring a surprising team-wide bounceback in the immediate future. It’s fun as a thought exercise, but I think it has no basis in reality. As I wrote elsewhere on Thursday, it’s not Ramirez’s fault he’s playing out of position, and he chose to come to the Red Sox because he loved the organization. To paraphrase Tyrion Lannister (SPOILER ALERT!), a team that trades those devoted to it doesn’t inspire much devotion.
As for Sandoval, it’s probably less important that he came to Boston specifically to play with Ramirez and Ortiz than the fact it has been triply established that a team can win it all with him starting at third base, but both are worth noting. He has bumbled so far, but if we traded everyone who started their Red Sox career with a bad first half we’d be lamenting Ortiz’s Hall of Fame career with the Blue Jays or something.
No, the man to go would and probably should be Napoli. Nevermind the logistics of getting someone to play first base, because that can easily be done. Nevermind what Napoli may do on, say, the Cardinals — for whatever reason, I’m sure he’d rake for the BFIB — and start imagining a world without him, because that’s where we’re headed. There’s no more hitting the snooze button on this one. It’s time for us to wake up in time to say goodbye.
Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images