Chris Gimenez and Mike Napoli don’t play the same position, not anymore. But the Twins appear interested in offering Gimenez’s role — as a clubhouse leader, not a catcher — to the veteran slugger.
The Twins have contacted Napoli’s agent about a contract for 2018, in hopes of completing a reunion that Napoli turned down last winter, according to a source with knowledge of the discussion. The 36-year-old Napoli, a former catcher who moved to first base and designated hitter five seasons ago, played for Cleveland in 2016 when Minnesota’s chief baseball officer, Derek Falvey, was in the Indians’ front office, and got to know Twins General Manager Thad Levine during stints with Texas in 2011-12 and 2015.
But Napoli accepted a $6 million contract, reportedly less than the Twins offered, in order to return to the Rangers again last year, and though he batted only .193, he also slugged 29 home runs in 485 at-bats for Texas.
The Rangers declined an option for $11 million for next season, making Napoli a free agent once again.
There is no indication that the sides are close to a deal, and the Dallas Morning News reported last week that the Mets, like the Twins, are also interested in signing him.
Napoli would fit as a righthanded bat off the bench, and a part-time first baseman and designated hitter, but the Twins’ interest in him extends nearly as much to the clubhouse as to the batter’s box, the source said. Gimenez proved particularly adept at that role with the Twins’ young players, but his position might not be available next year, with Mitch Garver, the Twins’ minor league player of the year, apparently in line for a promotion to the major leagues behind starter Jason Castro.
Building a winner
The Twins have signed only one free agent of note this offseason, closer Fernando Rodney. But Levine said Thursday that interest among potential signees has been heightened by the perception that Minnesota is building a winner.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Levine said during the annual “Twins’ Town Hall,” a question-and-answer session aired by Fox Sports North. “It is amazing what winning does.”
Agents for available players have called the Twins “and said they want to be a part of this,” Levine said, a reflection of the Twins’ 85-77 season and wild-card berth. “That’s really opened our eyes this offseason — and that’s just off the strength of one wild-card game. … We’re starting to see it turn to where premium players want to come to the Twins.”
Still, any such interest, in contrast to the lack of heat generated by Minnesota’s 59-win season in 2016, has yet to produce a major free-agent signing, and both Levine and Falvey avoided any discussion of their rumored interest in righthander Yu Darvish.
• Among the free agents willing to listen to the Twins’ pitch: Veteran lefthander C.C. Sabathia, who chose last week to remain in New York on a one-year, $10 million contract.
Sabathia, viewed by the Twins as a short-term answer for the rotation, received a lot of interest from the Twins during the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and the talks went well. Sabathia even contacted Torii Hunter, a special adviser to the Twins’ front office, to learn more about the Twin Cities and the team, before ultimately choosing to re-sign with the Yankees.
• Levine, joking when asked whether he regretted trading Brandon Kintzler and Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline, just before a 20-win August got the Twins back into the playoff race: “We would have made [the trades] earlier in the season if we knew that was all it took to motivate our players.”