GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Mike Napoli felt back home on Wednesday, walking around a clubhouse he knew and catching up with teammates he enjoys.
Everyone involved knows this reunion between Napoli and the Cleveland Indians most likely is just temporary and will end up with Napoli playing elsewhere.
“It came together pretty quick,” Napoli said Wednesday after signing a minor league deal. “Talking with my agent and he said there would be an opportunity to come in here to camp. Obviously we had conversations about the roster and what is going on. I’m very fortunate this organization has given me the opportunity to come here and get into shape and kind of showcase a little bit. I’m very fortunate to have them have me in camp.
Napoli is at spring training largely because manager Terry Francona wanted to give the 36-year-old slugger an opportunity to showcase what he still has, but with the clear knowledge there isn’t a spot on the Indians roster for Napoli. Edwin Encarnacion is Cleveland’s designated hitter; Yonder Alonso is Cleveland’s first baseman. Only an injury would change those plans at this time.
Napoli is with Cleveland to audition for others, making it unlikely he would get the $1.75 million salary that would be triggered if he is added to the 40-man roster.
“I know the situation. I know that guys here have to get ready to play,” Napoli said. “I’m willing to do whatever I have to do to get ready to play to get some game time. The understanding of everything is plain and clear. We know what is going on. There’s nothing that’s going to ruin any relationship here with these guys. They’re giving me an opportunity to get ready to play and it’s probably going to be somewhere else. Things happen but I’m just going to play it out and see what happens.”
Francona noted the difficulty of the situation for Napoli and how invested he was in the success of the Indians in 2016 when they lost to the Cubs in the World Series. His message when Napoli arrived was simple: have fun.
“The one thing I was reminding him, I said ‘Nap of all the things you have done in this game, all the time you have put in, you deserve the right to enjoy when you play. I want you to enjoy.’ I think he understood that,” Francona said. “I hope it helped. I think it did because when I was listening to him talk he can’t be all in because he understands that he might; there are just a lot of variables. I get it. And the way Nap is built, he is built to be all in. So it’s a little different. But he’s earned the right to enjoy when he plays and I want him to do that.”
Napoli hoped never to leave Cleveland after helping the Indians within a game of the title in 2016. Napoli hit a career-high 34 home runs and 101 RBIs, but when Cleveland landed Encarnacion as a free agent before the 2017 season, Napoli was without a place in Cleveland’s plans.
He slumped last season in Texas, hitting just .193 with 29 homers and 66 RBIs, and found himself among the large list of prominent free agents without a team when spring training started.
“It’s pretty crazy the amount of free agents that are still out there. Can’t really put my finger on it but it’s what is going on right now,” Napoli said. “Like I said I’m fortunate to be able to get into camp here.
Napoli briefly joined the free agent camp arranged by the players’ association in Florida because he didn’t have the facilities he needed at home in the Dallas area. But he welcome the opportunity when Francona and the Indians called.
“We’ve obviously kept in touch and we’re really close. He means a lot to me,” Napoli said of Francona. “For him to allow me to come here and be part of this camp and be myself and do what I do, help the guys out in any way and also get me into shape and ready to play baseball, it’s just a great opportunity for me and I’m grateful for it.”
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