Former team: Texas Rangers
Position: Catcher/First base
Contract: 1-year, $5 million
Projected role: Starting first baseman
Mike Napoli’s balky hip turned what would have been a potentially horrid contract, into one that looks like a steal.
On December 3, Boston reportedly signed Napoli for three years and $39 million, a contract that warranted skepticism given the combination of his poor defense at first base and catcher, and his weak bat relative to first base standards — the position he was presumably signed to play.
But as weeks went by, and the official announcement and introduction of Napoli remained absent, injury concerns intensified. His physical with the Red Sox brought about red flags when it revealed a hip injury serious enough for Boston to back off of their original offer. Napoli and the Red Sox finally agreed on a conservative one-year, $5 million deal. If Napoli meets the contract’s incentives — avoid a hip-related injury that requires a disabled list stint — he will earn $13 million. In other words, Napoli still earns his $13 million if he breaks his arm, or suffers any other non-hip related injury, in the final month of the season.
One may question why Napoli would accept such a deal considering the 3-year, $39 million offer on the table just two months ago, but as Marc Normandin of SB Nation points out, Boston was one of the only teams interested in him.
Seattle showed initial interest, but that dissipated once his hip issues were revealed. Cleveland also inquired but opted to spend their offseason budget on Nick Swisher, Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds. Texas, his previous team, offered him a contract, but with the signing of catcher A.J. Pierzynski and designated hitter Lance Berkman, along with the presence of a younger, cheaper option at first base in Mitch Moreland, Napoli was not guaranteed a starting spot.
So Napoli has one year to prove that the reports coming out about his hip were exaggerated. This deal also makes sense for the Red Sox, who get a solid bat with an inexpensive one-year deal. If he can improve slightly on his .227/.343/.469 triple-slash line (avg., obp., slg.) from last season, or prove that his .303/.397/.710 line in 73 plate appearances at Fenway isn’t just a small sample size, the $13 million contact will prove worthy.
I think some dislike this signing because they’d rather see a prospect like Ryan Lavarnway get chances at first base and catcher particularly on a team that many figure won’t be a playoff contender this season. But is it completely ridiculous to think that with a fairly solid lineup, a serviceable rotation and an exceptional bullpen, the Red Sox could compete for a playoff spot and maybe even an AL East title?
Remember that the New York Yankees have done absolutely nothing to recover from last year’s four-game sweep by the Detroit Tigers, when they looked like an old, overachieving team. The Toronto made a splash in the offseason but that doesn’t necessarily translate to postseason appearances, the Rays shipped off one of their best pitchers and were quiet in free agency and the defending AL East champion Baltimore Orioles still must prove that their miraculous season wasn’t a mirage.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the Red Sox should make the playoffs — unlike in recent years when their personnel was postseason-worthy — but I also don’t expect another season like last year’s 69-93 debacle. The signing of Napoli should help ensure that.
Jackson Alexander can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.