Reunions with Salty, Napoli a possibility in 2014
With Texas needing catcher and right-handed bat, Boston duo figures to be on radar
BOSTON -- The Rangers spent last week in Arizona putting together their offseason agenda, and the priority list includes both a right-handed bat and a catcher.
When they look over the free-agent list, they are going to see a couple of names that are quite familiar to them. Once the Boston Red Sox are through with postseason, first baseman Mike Napoli and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be looking for a place to play next season.
There should be sufficient interest in both from many teams based on what they did to help get the Red Sox this far.
"I haven't had much time to think about it," Saltalamacchia said. "I know teams need catching. My preference is to stay here, but things don't always work out. That's free agency. When we come up to the winter, we'll see what happens."
Unlike the Rangers, the Red Sox don't have much time to ponder free-agent options when there is a possibility of playing in a World Series.
"With everything that has been going on, I just want to get through this year and help this team win this thing," Napoli said.
Saltalamacchia and Napoli have played for the Rangers before. The Rangers have reason to consider both, should they have a desire to return to Texas.
Saltalamacchia has developed into the frontline catcher the Rangers envisioned when they acquired him from the Braves in 2007 as part of the Mark Teixeira trade. In his third season as the Red Sox's No. 1 catcher, Saltalamacchia hit .273 with 40 doubles, 16 home runs and 65 RBIs. His .804 OPS was the fourth highest among all qualifying Major League catchers. Brian McCann, another free agent who is high on the Rangers' list, had a .796 OPS.
Those were the kind of numbers the Rangers were expecting from Saltalamacchia in Texas, but it never worked out quite that way. Arm injuries and throwing problems set him back, including season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in 2009. Saltalamacchia had the game-winning hit on Opening Day 2010 but was on the disabled list two days later with stiffness in his upper back. He never played for the Rangers again. Buried in the Minor Leagues after he got healthy, he was traded to the Red Sox on July 31 for three marginal prospects.
"When I came back after the surgery, I thought that would be the year I got turned around," Saltalamacchia said. "But then I got injured and they didn't want to give me another chance. They wanted to go with what they had, and it was time to move on."
Boston has been a great spot for Saltalamacchia, and it's easy to see the Red Sox wanting him back. But Saltalamacchia hasn't ruled out the possibility of coming back to Texas. He did have some problems with former farm director Scott Servais, who also worked with the catchers throughout the organization. But Servais is now with the Angels.
"I never had any bad blood in Texas and I don't think I left on bad terms," Saltalamacchia said. "Me and Scott Servais ... I know he really wanted to help me, but it just went south and we never clicked. Some things were said that shouldn't be said and we couldn't reconcile our differences. But as far as Texas, I loved the guys on the team and I loved the place."
Napoli also speaks highly of Texas. He was there for two seasons and was the No. 1 catcher on the team that went to the 2011 World Series. If the Rangers had been able to close out Game 6 against the Cardinals, Napoli could have easily been named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series.
"I miss all the guys, that's for sure," Napoli said. "But it is what it is and I've moved on. We've been having a great year here."
Napoli left the Rangers after they declined to extend him a $13.3 million qualifying offer, and they were left without compensation when he signed with the Red Sox. The original agreement was a three-year, $39 million deal that was rescinded because of concerns about a hip issue. Napoli instead agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal with incentives in Boston. He also agreed to a permanent position shift.
Napoli is no longer a catcher. The Red Sox wanted his bat in the lineup, so he agreed to be their first baseman and has done well there with the help of infielder instructor Brian Butterfield. His catching days are all but over.
"I love it," Napoli said. "I worked with Brian Butterfield and he taught me a lot in Spring Training. I told him I had never been taught from square one how to play the position. He loved that. I started taking ground balls on my knees to learn the glove work, I learned how to set up and the footwork around the base ... everything. I took a thousand ground balls."
Napoli also hit .259 with 23 home runs and a career-high 92 RBIs in 139 games, although he also struck out 187 times. But on a team that led the American League in runs scored, Napoli's RBIs were the second most behind David Ortiz, who had 103.
The Rangers were seventh in the league in runs scored. Napoli was missed. Both he and Saltalamacchia are worth considering by anybody this winter, especially a team looking for offensive help.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.