Red Sox, Mike Napoli Agree to Three-Year Contract

mike napoliOn Day 1 of this year’s Winter Meetings, the biggest news thus far is that the Boston Red Sox have agreed to terms on a three-year, $39 million contract with free agent Mike Napoli.

The Rangers failed to offer Napoli a qualifying offer, which means Boston will not have to sacrifice any draft picks in order to sign him.

Though Napoli caught 72 games last year for the Texas Rangers, he is expected to primarily play first base with James Loney signing with the Tampa Bay Rays this off-season. However, that doesn’t rule out the possibility of Napoli seeing some action behind the plate, and general manager Ben Cherington could shop either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway to clear some space.

The Red Sox have been seeking offensive upgrades since they traded Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers in their mid-season salary dump. Napoli is the marquee “Moneyball” player, one that has a tons of power and patience, but will never post a high batting average. Last year, he posted a .227/.343/.469 with 24 home runs and 56 RBI hitting towards the bottom of Texas’ vaunted line-up. Napoli has hit 20+ home runs in five consecutive seasons and stands to match that again in the hitter-friendly Fenway Park.

However, there are two drawbacks. The first, only once in Napoli’s career has he appeared in at least 140 games (2010). He will be 31 throughout the 2013 season, so there are no indications that health will come to him with age.

My second problem with the signing actually isn’t a problem with Napoli playing with the Red Sox. In fact, I think it’s a perfectly fine signing that’ll make the Boston line-up deeper around the likes of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz and fills a gaping hole for this team at first base. However, people need to stop telling me that “this is a great signing because Napoli is a phenomenal hitter in Fenway Park”.

Yes, Napoli’s stats in Fenway are impressive. He’s hit .306/.397/.710 and has hit a home run in every 10.4 at bats. Here’s the one, massive  problem with all of those gawdy numbers:

He won’t be facing Boston pitching anymore.

For example, Chipper Jones put up historic numbers against the New York Mets throughout his career. Literally, no player in baseball during Jones’ long career owned an opponent team quite like Chipper did. However, that never meant that if the Mets once signed Chipper Jones, he would immediately replicate those numbers he put up against the Mets in their home stadium. Nothing could be further than the truth. He owned Shea Stadium and Citi Field because he owned Mets pitching. Napoli has owned Fenway Park because he’s owned Red Sox pitching.

Napoli very easily can have a successful season playing home games at Fenway Park. Many hitters do, actually. However, very smart men in baseball seem to forget that a massive portion of Napoli’s previous success in Fenway Park had to do with the quality of pitchers he was facing.

The Red Sox have acquired a powerful, patient first basemen who will fit very well into the middle of their line-up. That’s what’s most important at the end of the day. He was the best available on the open market, and Boston made their move. They’re a better team today than they were yesterday, and finally the Red Sox fanbase has something to be excited about.