When the Boston Red Sox traded power hitting first basemen Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season it created a a huge need for a power bat. Gonzalez had underproduced in 2012 but had hit at least 99 RBI and 27 home runs in five straight seasons. More importantly, he played in at least 159 games in all of these seasons. In the post-steroid era, this type of production is not easy to find.
The Red Sox hitched their wagon to a player that has killed them the last few seasons in Mike Napoli. In the past three seasons, Napoli had more RBI against Boston than any other team. In only 76 at bats, the Texas Rangers catcher/first basemen hit 12 home runs, with 26 RBI while hitting for a .329 average.
The biggest risk in signing Napoli is his track record as an injury risk. During his eight year career, he has played in more than 114 games only once. After signing Napoli to a three year, $39 million deal in December, Red Sox team doctors discovered avascular necrosis, which can lead to bone collapse. This was news to Napoli since he had shown no signs of it, and unfortunately for him it cost him a lot of money. The deal was altered to a one year $5 million contract, with performance incentives that could enable him to make $13 million.
Early returns on Napoli suggest that the Red Sox got the bargain of the offseason. Napoli has become the Red Sox version of the Chicago Bulls‘ Bill Cartwright as the “Man in the Middle”. Napoli leads the Red Sox with 16 RBI, which is good for fourth in the American League. He is on a tear right now with eight RBI in his last four games. His job as the cleanup hitter is to not leave runners on base, and so far he has not disappointed.
Most importantly, Napoli has not missed a game and is second on the Red Sox in at bats. He is a safe bet to earn his contract incentives, and Boston would be wise to sign him to a two year extension.
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