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Last year around this time, the Red Sox signed Mike Napoli to a 3-year, $39 million contract. After a physical, Napoli was found to have a degenerative hip condition called avascular necrosis. Napoli’s contract was subsequently reduced to a one-year, $5 million deal with $8 million in incentives. From there, Napoli had a solid season and the Red Sox became World Champions. Now, Mike Napoli is a free agent.
Who now doesn’t wish that the original three-year contract had stood pat?
Napoli has not been shy with his desire to return to Boston. He has had numerous interviews where he expresses the fact and his shirtless drunken escapades on Boylston after the World Series were testament enough to his desire to return. Unfortunately even when player and team both express mutual interest it does not mean a deal can be had.
Before signing with the Red Sox, Napoli was coming off a season where he hit .227 and there were questions about his health. Coming off 2013, Napoli is a World Series Champion who had a solid regular season campaign and showed that he is an above average defender at first. Right now the Red Sox are wishing they had stuck with the original 3 year 39 million dollar deal. Unfortunately Napoli is now a free agent and the best first baseman on the market; as a result there is a lot of competition for his services. At this point it will probably take something along the lines of a 3-year 45 million deal to keep Napoli in Boston.
The next best free agent option for the Red Sox may be Corey Hart. Since 2007 he has averaged just over 23 homeruns a season. While originally an outfielder, Hart made the transition to first in the 2012 season. He has over 800 innings of experience at first base, but his career UZR at the position is -7.3 suggesting that is a well-below average defender at the bag.
The biggest concern with Hart is that missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing surgery on his left knee. This injury happened in the middle of his rehab assignment for his right knee so the Red Sox need to be confident in his health in order to consider bringing him to Boston. Hart should be cleared to begin working out for teams come December so there should be a clearer picture of the situation then. Due to his health concerns though, Boston may be able to get him to come to Boston on a one-year buy-low contract so it may be worth looking into.
Mark Trumbo has been a name that many Red Sox fans have been salivating over these past couple years. This is understandable because of the past three years he has hit 95 homeruns and is one of the legitimate power sources in the game. Unfortunately, after the homeruns there is not much to like about Trumbo. He isn’t particularly adept at first defensively and his career OBP is .299. The Red Sox have always been a team that stresses working the count and getting on base, so Trumbo makes little sense for them.
After Hart, the pickings at first base are extremely slim and so if Napoli does not come back to Boston it would not be a surprise if the Red Sox take a different route. With Napoli gone, the Red Sox may find it in their best interest to sign a shortstop to a short term deal (Stephen Drew, anyone?) and have a platoon of Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, and Will Middlebrooks at first. While this is far from ideal it is much better than the options on the market. The most attractive option may be Justin Morneau, but he has been a shell of himself ever since his concussion. Old friend Kevin Youkilis is out there, but it is hard to envision a scenario where he wants to come back to Boston.In the end, Boston’s best option is to stick with what worked last year and bring Napoli back into the fold. Unfortunately, what’s best for the team and what actually happens are not always the same. Here’s hoping that the Red Sox and Napoli can find a middle ground.