Now that Mike Napoli made good on his one-year make-good deal, will the Boston Red Sox return the favor?
At first glance, given the incredible success that the team has had in 2013 in currently playing in the World Series, you’d have to think it’s a no-brainer. Aside from his 3.9 fWAR’s worth of on-field contributions at first base, Napoli also happens to own one of the team’s two most famed beards … which is a funny way of saying that he’s established himself as an important presence in this clubhouse.
Besides, it’s not as if the Red Sox are flush with options at first base going forward, and with a three-year, $39 million deal already agreed upon one offseason ago before it was nixed, the financial precedent is already set.
For his part, Napoli seems to be interested in rejoining Boston regardless of the results of their postseason run, even if he was forced to the bench as the World Series moved to the DH-less confines of Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Then again, the fact that the team wants to get his bat in the lineup so badly that they’re actually having him take grounders at third base says a whole lot, doesn’t it?
So, if both the player and the team have good reasons to extend their partnership going forward, why is it not a foregone conclusion that there’s going to be an encore in this relationship?
Well, I suppose you don’t have to look too much further than the reason why Napoli’s deal only ended up being for one year to begin with. While he has definitely powered through his degenerative hip condition to put together a strong .259/.360/.482 triple-slash through 578 PA, the fact is that the ailment is something he’ll continue having to deal going forward, and it’ll continue to limit his contributions to the field.
Ditching the catcher position for the full-time first base gig he owned this year is just the first step of that. Should he be signed to a three-year deal, it’s likely that he’ll be moved to a full-time DH role sooner rather than later (as soon as David Ortiz calls it a day on his career); it’s a reasonable move for him, but it does continually limit the value he has for the Red Sox in the long run.
After that, there’s also the question of whether Napoli will be able to sustain his success at the plate as well.
It’s going to sound a bit like playing devil’s advocate here, but consider the fact that this is a batter who whiffed at a career-high rate (13.1 percent swinging strikes, 32.4 percent strikeouts). That’s enough of a red flag for any aging veteran headed towards to second half of their prime, let alone one with a continued health issue that isn’t going to go away.
Yes, he did significantly improve his line drive rate to 24.4 percent, and his power (19.0 HR/FB rate) is undeniable, but also consider the fact that despite a career-high BABIP of .367, he only managed to his .259 on the year as his strikeout-prone ways seriously diminish that part of his offensive output.
The season with his second-highest BABIP? That was in his breakout season in 2011, where he owned a .344 BABIP and hit .320 while striking out just 19.7 percent.
Those are two different pictures of what the Red Sox might be paying for if they do choose to extend him, but either way, I think it’s fair to say that the team will be very disappointed if they’re expecting to get someone who can adequately fill Big Papi’s shoes as a DH.
That’s really more of a compliment to Ortiz’s incredible career rather than a slight to Napoli, of course, but considering that the team paid the arguably best DH of all time around $13 million per year through much of his prime … will giving their current first baseman the same kind of contract over three years (could a competitor dare go three plus an option?) yield the requisite value for the Red Sox?