Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Catch-22 of Mike Napoli

Everything says the Red Sox are playing to resign Mike Napoli this offseason and obviously his play will be for the long term deal the team took away from him last season.  He showed his ability to stay healthy and his interest to stay in Boston was evident in his quotes this offseason.

Everything seems straight forward in that case and after a 3.9 fWAR season and proving his defense at first is very good the two sides should iron this out and be done ASAP.  Once you like at the free agent market that should make you raise the price even more.

The list of first base free agents is bad at best and gets scary at worst.  Here is the list of free agents at MLB Trade Rumors and you can see there is a ton of over the hill backups and huge injury risks.  The team isn't likely to bring back anyone especially not Kevin Youkilis even if Bobby V moved on.  Mark Reynolds looks to have fallen off the cliff at only 30 years old and Justin Morneau just isn't the same player.

I can't see one name outside of Corey Hart who might be worth an offer and that is only because he's a sure one year deal and if he can stay on the field will produce well enough for the team that signs him.  The Red Sox have made a very large part of their talent search to add injury risks on one year deals including Napoli himself.

If the Red Sox miss out on Napoli and Hart though the free agent prospects are obviously thin and might require the cost of some of the pitching I discussed on Tuesday.  From Felix Doubront to John Lackey or Jake Peavy the team has an arm or two to move.  They could even move Ryan Dempster and eat some salary to make something get done.  Who they might get is a big question.  Would Mark Trumbo be worth adding? Perhaps, but do you really want a younger Napoli who takes less walks?

Well to avoid getting to that situation the team should just suck it up and give Napoli the deal even if it means going four years right? Nope.  Napoli was frustrating this season, but we all agree the power and ability to take so many pitches should make him a valuable asset.  Yes while at the same time realizing Napoli has several red flags in his 2013 season.

The strikeout rate is off the charts in 2013 and miles away from his career best 19 percent acheived in 2011 when he had a SLG of .631 and 30 homers in Texas.  A fluke year for sure, but part of the potential he showed and why the Red Sox really wanted him so much.

The elephant in the room for Napoli is his BABIP in 2013 at .367 a career high and more than 50 points over his career average.  You might assume that perhaps Fenway helped in adding extra hits, but his BABIP was mostly on the road at .397.  When this number declines over the course of his next contract and if his strikeouts maintain at 30 percent then Napoli is going to be a solid and perhaps above average player, but at more than $13M per season it's borderline if he'll make it worth the money especially for three years or more.

Internally the Red Sox could look at Mike Carp in a platoon with a right handed bat at first or even weight the option of trying Ryan Lavarnway there, but those don't seem very likely given the team may enter 2014 with two largely untested players in Xander Bogaerts at short stop and Jackie Bradley Jr in center field.  Top it off with a question at third base in Will Middlebrooks and you want more of a sure thing at first base.

While the team may end up looking back at a three year deal for Napoli in much the same way they viewed the Mike Lowell deal after the 2007 World Series there isn't a lot of other great options.  The team can also eat a contract like that while many other teams cannot.  At the same time if Napoli finds a team willing to go to four years then it's time to take these other choices more seriously and move on.

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