Mike Napoli is headed right back to the AL West. Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays traded him Tuesday to the Texas Rangers for set-up man Frank Francisco. Toronto also gets $1 millino in the deal, meaning they net about $2.5 million in payroll flexibility for 2011 from this swap, after freeing up over $10.5 million with their acquisition of Napoli and Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells last week.
The deal opens the door exceptionally wide for the team to extend Jose Bautista on a front-loaded three-year deal, the kind they would presumably want to give him anyway. It could also pave the way for the Jays to get aggressive in free agency next season, as first base remains fairly fluid for them and Prince Fielder will be available.
In the short term, the Jays now need to find another bat. Napoli seemed poised for a 30-homer campaign in Toronto, but trading him to Texas closed the door for Vladimir Guerrero to return to Arlington and may facilitate his signing with the team.
Anthpoulos is a mad scientist and his tinkering may backfire, but it also may be exactly what Toronto needed: The Jays replaced departed Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs with lesser arms in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch, but after adding Francisco the team now has at least five solid right-handed relievers in tow for 2011. Carlos Villanueva, acquired from Milwaukee in December, may get a long look this spring as a fifth starter now that the bullpen is so crowded.
In a word, this deal was aggressive. It may be that Anthopoulos has overplayed his hand. Still, he continues to buy and sell pieces of a winning team like a speed-freak stock broker. Toronto’s two winter sports franchises are a combined 32-56 right now, so this shell game is the most fun to be had for a sports fan in the Queen City of the north.