In one of the more under-the-radar trades of a busy night of deals on Monday, the Texas Rangers acquired catcher Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs.
This move was something of a surprise since Texas was not known to be in the market for catching help since they already have Mike Napoli in place with Yorvit Torrealba as his back-up. Yet now Soto is on board and Torrealba has been cut loose, which is even more curious since Soto and Torrealba are both having horrible offense seasons with wOBAs of .275 and .284, respectively. Soto is likely a defensive upgrade over Torrealba, but not a major one.
Really the only reason it seems that Soto might be attractive is that he is under team control through 2013, assuming Texas doesn't non-tender him, which one would think they wouldn't since they just traded for him. It could just be that Texas sees something in Soto who was the NL Rookie of the Year and an All-Star back in 2008, but it could also be that Texas is thinking about their future, specifically about their future with starting catcher Mike Napoli who will be a free agent at the end of the season.
After his monster season in 2011, Napoli has come back to earth in 2012, carrying a .228/.344/.445 slash line that is far more reminiscent of the numbers he put up in Anaheim before they decided he wasn't worth keeping around and a lot less like the Mike Piazza version 2.0 numbers of last season. Those are still strong numbers for a catcher, they just aren't MVP-caliber numbers anymore.
That big fluctuation in production could well be the driving force behind the Soto deal. It isn't that Texas is unhappy with Napoli's output so much as their possible lack of desire to pay Napoli big bucks when they don't know which version they will be paying for.A
As it stands right now, Napoli will be far and away the best catcher on the free agent market after this season, assuming the options on Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz are picked up. In fact, if he can convince team's that he can tap back into his 2011 form, he could be considered one of the best bats at any position.
Texas appears to have the money to pay Napoli whatever the market demands, but the Rangers didn't get to where they are by overspending foolishly. The key to their recent success has arguably been their commitment to keeping the long-term in mind with all of their moves, thus their reluctance to part with elite prospect Profar and Olt in several trades they've discussed. That long-term planning is certainly what drove the Soto acquisition as he comes in as an insurance policy of sorts should Napoli's price tag rise above what they are willing to pay. It would definitely be a huge offensive downgrade, but least the Rangers won't be getting caught with their pants down and without a starting catcher for 2013.
But still the question remains if this was just Jon Daniels showing some very smart foresight and hedging his bets or if maybe he already has an inclination that Napoli is going to be too expensive to keep. Don't forget the two sides did talk contract extension before this season and failed to come to an accord.
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