GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Before you buy your new "Party At Napoli's" t-shirt, you might want to wait a minute. According to Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, there's a good chance the veteran first baseman won't be a part of the team's Opening Day roster.
“It’s a little bit of a unique situation," Francona said in Goodyear, Ariz. on Tuesday, minutes after it was reported Napoli would sign a minor league contract with the Indians after passing a physical. "I’ve already told Edwin [Encarnacion] and Yonder [Alonso] that Nap’s not coming in to take their job.”
What Napoli -- who hit a career-low .193 to go along with 29 home runs last season -- is coming to Goodyear to do is showcase himself in a Major League camp. After the Texas Rangers bought out the second year of his contract at $2.5 million, the 36-year-old had remained unsigned and was most recently working out alongside other free agents at a camp in Bradenton, Fla.
Francona didn't feel that was right, maintaining a respect for Napoli as both a player and clubhouse presence following his stint in Cleveland in 2016. Batting .239 to go along with 34 home runs, Napoli served as not only a fan favorite, but a locker room leader throughout the Indians run to the 2016 World Series.
"We're thrilled to have him in our camp," Francona said. "Whatever time he spends with us here will be valuable for everybody."
Francona acknowledged that an Opening Day roster spot likely wouldn't be available for Napoli, with Encarnacion and Alonso respectively entrenched as Cleveland's starting designated hitter and first baseman. Although there's a chance an injury could create an opening with the Indians, Napoli's second stint with the Tribe will likely amount to an extended showcase, presenting a unique situation where the former All-Star could ultimately wind up with a contender other than Cleveland.
Francona, however, insists that he doesn't see the admittedly uncommon circumstances surrounding Napoli's signing as a risk. Although he's never seen anything like it before in his career in baseball, the Indians' sixth-year manager said he'll have no regrets if Napoli's time in Goodyear amounts to a chance elsewhere for one of his favorite former players.
"If we end up helping him out, then we did a good thing. Because if anybody deserves it, it's Nap," Francona said.
"But realistically, we might be getting him ready to come back and try to beat us."