Mike Napoli: Why Red Sox Made Wrong Move in Signing Free-Agent Catcher

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 17: Mike Napoli #25 of the Texas Rangers hits an RBI single against the Oakland Athletics during the fourth inning at O.co Coliseum on July 17, 2012 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox will regret signing Mike Napoli.

It's official now, with the two sides agreeing to a three-year, $39 million contract per MLB.com. Napoli is coming off an All-Star season in which he hit 24 home runs and drove in 56 runs.

The move is a bit of a far cry from past offseasons when the likes of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez made the move to Fenway Park. Management has learned from the mistakes and are prepared to not make them again.

Napoli is a good player, and while the contract won't weigh the team down, the Red Sox are still overpaying for him. This year's free-agent class is very thin, so teams are going to have to overpay in order to sign players.

If Boston is going to pay over the odds for a player, they could have gotten more value from a different player.

He's always been a below average defensive catcher. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is an average catcher, but his numbers weren't that much worse than Napoli's. They were all of course lower, but is the difference on the field between Napoli and Saltalamacchia as great as the difference in their contracts?

At 31 years old, the team will in all likelihood move Napoli between catcher, first base and designated hitter throughout the season.

First base is a definite weakness for Boston. But if the Red Sox wanted a first baseman, they would have been much wiser to go after Adam LaRoche. There's only two years difference between the two players' ages, and LaRoche is a much better all around player.

Those who stand behind the move look at his very good numbers at Fenway. Over his career, he's hit .306 with seven homers and 17 RBIs. Hitting for average is one of the biggest knocks against Napoli. That Fenway average is almost 50 points higher than his career average of .259.

However, it's a very small sample size. You can't make the case that a good performance over 19 games mean he's a great fit for the ballpark.

Napoli had a great 2011, when he hit .320 with 30 home runs and 75 RBI. You have to wonder, though, how much he might have been just playing for a contract. The following season, he signed a one-year, $9.4 million contract with the Rangers.

Pitching has been the biggest Achilles' heel for the Red Sox. It would be smart to throw the majority of the team's free-agent funding to improving the starting rotation. There aren't a ton of good options, but there are certainly some who would be upgrades.

It's unlikely that the Red Sox could make enough moves that would get them back in the hunt for the World Series next year. Signing Mike Napoli isn't going to demonstrably further their opportunities for October either.