As of 10:30 a.m. on Monday morning, Mike Napoli is a member of the Boston Red Sox. Napoli has agreed to a three-year, $39M deal (pending a physical) with Boston, turning down offers from both Texas and Seattle.
Napoli is expected to be the primary first baseman and will also spend time behind the plate.
The Red Sox have not made their interest in free-agent Mike Napoli a secret. Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words.
And as of December 1, it appears as if the Red Sox and Napoli are at a standstill.
While the Red Sox seem to know they want to add Napoli to the roster in some capacity, whether it be as a first baseman, catcher or both, Napoli also knows what he wants: a four-year deal. From the looks of things, he’s not going to budge. And he shouldn’t. If the Red Sox aren’t willing to go to four years, somebody else will. If that is the case, General Manager Ben Cherington can most certainly kiss him goodbye.
“We had a good meeting,” said Napoli’s agent Brian Grieper Saturday night. “That’s really all I can say. We’ll see what happens.”
When it comes to free-agent signings, I think we forget that there’s another side to the coin. In this particular case, there is actually the possibility that Napoli doesn’t find Boston as appealing as say… Seattle. Hard to imagine, right? Well let’s think about it. There’s less pressure, less media, the weather isn’t frigid as Boston at times — Napoli is from Florida — and I’m fairly certain the ballpark amenities are a little nicer. Sure Seattle doesn’t have three other Championship-caliber teams and a rich, traditional baseball history, but not everyone finds that appealing. Again, hard to imagine, especially if you’re from Boston. We’re all so biased, aren’t we?
Taking a look at the numbers, there is something that could play a factor in his decision… Napoli’s ability to hit well AGAINST the Red Sox and teams he used to be a member of. For instance, Napoli has become the apple of the Red Sox’ eye due to the slugger’s hitting history at Fenway Park and against the Red Sox in general. Tied with Comerica Park in Detroit, Napoli has seven home runs at Fenway, only second to his two former home ballparks in Texas and Anaheim where he hit 30 and 57, respectively.
Not only has Napoli personally enjoyed his success against Anaheim, but he makes Mike Scioscia, who didn’t take notice of Napoli’s bat as much as his defense behind the plate, look silly. Out of all 30 MLB teams, Napoli has recorded career-best numbers against his former team — .396/18/25. So might he have the same success as a Mariner when facing both the Rangers and Angels in the American League West? Possibly. Is the American League West the best place for Napoli to stay instead of coming to the tough AL East where he’d have to face the Yankees and Rays? Likely.
From what I understand, returning to Texas is a long shot. Sources say the Rangers aren’t willing to offer anything near what the Mariners are. So if Napoli choses to stay in his cozy division, the Mariners will have a lot to celebrate.
Seattle needs a big bat and Napoli is their most coveted free agent. In fact, it was the first stop on his free-agent tour followed by Boston and ending in Texas on Wednesday night. It is also likely the Mariners will go to four years before Boston does, especially since Peter Gammons has recently reported that the Red Sox are reluctant to offer three, a detail I found quite surprising. Napoli’s agent had previously led me to believe the longevity of the contract wouldn’t be as big of an issue as suspected. Seattle has also told Napoli he would hit cleanup, an appealing detail that would not be an option for him in Boston as long as David Ortiz is a healthy member of the Red Sox. Although his cleanup experience is minimum – .220/5/12 in just 59 at-bats, Napoli seems best suited for the five hole where he’s hit .308/10/35 in 198 at-bats. His most experience, however, is batting eighth — .266/52/159 in 758 at-bats.
If we take a look at Napoli’s defense, particularly at first, where he’s only started 30 games, it’s not as impressive as it is a work in progress. In reality, you can’t be surprised or blame the Red Sox for their concerns about his defense. Does this remind you of something? If you look back to Adam Dunn’s situation with the Washington Nationals after the 2010 season, Dunn was a perfect example of an expensive bat and a cheap glove. The outcome? Nat’s GM Mike Rizzo allowing the Chicago White Sox to pay Dunn $56M over four years to DH, a position Dunn had stated many times he wasn’t fond of. The only way for Rizzo to keep Dunn’s glove off the field, was to let him go.
If Boston feels there’s more of an upside with the young Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate and a better defensive first baseman they can sign via free agency – such as Adam LaRoche – then let’s be honest, this deal – whether it’s three or four years – doesn’t make much sense for Boston. After all, Napoli didn’t have the greatest relationship with Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia because the skipper didn’t feel Napoli had the defensive skills to be an everyday catcher. I can only assume having John Farrell sit Napoli, who was eventually replaced by Jeff Mathis in Anaheim, would not go over well with anyone.
There is a strong market for Mike Napoli. The world is his oyster. He will get four years from somebody. It just may not be Boston.