Napoli, 31, has recently been pursued by both the Mariners and Rangers after not being offered a qualifying offer worth $13 million by the Rangers. Jim Bowden of ESPN had initially reported that Napoli is "holding out" for a fourth, guaranteed year in his contract.
The fourth year has been the proverbial line in the sand between the Red Sox and Napoli, but Bowden also reported that the Seattle Mariners may be willing to oblige with Napoli's wishes. He did meet with the Mariners this past week and is expected to meet with the Rangers at some point in the following week.
Napoli is currently coming off of a down season in Texas, in which he only hit .227 with 24 home runs and 54 runs batted in. He also dealt with injuries throughout the second half of the season, which led to him only playing 108 games in 2012.
If he signs with Boston, Napoli would primarily serve as a first baseman, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross would share time behind the plate.
Regardless of his down season, general manager Ben Cherington will need to make a hard push in acquiring the power hitting catcher/first baseman. With few options on the free agent market, Napoli continues to be a big fish in a small pond. Because of this lack of true options, the Red Sox may have to hesitantly give a fourth year to Napoli.
Being relatively quiet this offseason thus far, Cherington has made it clear that he wishes to have a "large payroll" in 2013. In recent interviews, Cherington has dismissed ideas of taking on very pricey contracts, but has made it clear he will spend if he knows it will improve the Red Sox in the long run.
Where will Mike Napoli end up?
Projected to earn about $8-$10 million a year in his new contract, Napoli would not be too out of range, and he is one of the better first baseman available. The majority of baseball's elite first basemen are locked up in long term deals, so a four-year deal with Napoli wouldn't be unreasonable.
However, it is a concern in the eyes of Cherington and the Red Sox for good reason. There are concerns that Napoli may wear down and not meet the production of previous years. But unless Boston is involved in a blockbuster deal that brings Joe Mauer or Ike Davis to town, Napoli is the best option.
The Red Sox need a big acquisition this offseason and Napoli will provide a spark in the middle of the lineup. Although his potential is not similar to the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Napoli is a serviceable option who should be a great fit in Fenway Park.
Although Cherington has stressed discipline before, he must be aggressive in signing Napoli, because if he doesn't make an appealing offer quickly, Seattle or Texas will capitalize. If that means giving away an extra year, Napoli may just be worth the investment.