Having been one of the busiest teams in free agency during this offseason, the Boston Red Sox appear nearly set as they head into spring training. However, it’s still possible that their inability to tie up a loose end may force them to make another major acquisition.
Boston thought they had locked a starting first baseman into place when they agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with Mike Napoli earlier in the month. But to date, no official announcement has been made because of issues preventing the finalization of the deal.
WEEI’s Rob Bradford reported that Boston GM Ben Cherington announced at a recent press conference that no progress had been made with the Napoli negotiations. Cherington explained, “We continue to talk and there’s that consistent dialogue and we’ll continue to do that, work to resolve the issues that are outstanding. I can’t classify it or anything like that.”
SI.com’s Will Carroll tweeted last week that the Red Sox were hoping to renegotiate a shorter deal with Napoli because of health concerns:
Hearing that the Napoli deal back in negotiations, with team asking Napoli to take less years but same AAV. Swisher Plan B.— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) December 13, 2012
Although Carroll thought that Nick Swisher would be the Red Sox backup plan if Napoli’s deal falls through, it appears that focus may have shifted. It’s starting to look like Boston’s old friend Adam LaRoche has taken the lead as the possible replacement at first base if terms can’t be reached with Napoli.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported that the hold-up on Napoli appears to be the Red Sox wanting specific language included in the contract regarding a medical situation involving the player’s hip or leg.
Cafardo believes not being able to complete Napoli’s deal might work out well for the Red Sox because “LaRoche could actually be a better option for Boston.” That possibility is starting to gain more traction as time drags on.
ESPN.com Insider’s Doug Mittler wrote in MLB Rumors on December 17th that LaRoche turned down the Washington Nationals’ $13.3 million qualifying offer for 2013. The first baseman hasn't been interested in the two-year deal he was subsequently offered, but Cafardo thinks he could bite if the Red Sox were willing to give him the same three-year, $39 million deal they originally earmarked for Napoli.
Adding LaRoche would fit in with the other moves made by the Red Sox this offseason. The 33-year-old can be best described as a complementary player—nearly identical to the identities of other free-agent acquisitions Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Ryan Dempster.
Although he won a Gold Glove last season, according to advanced metrics, LaRoche is really just an average fielder. He has a combined dWAR of 0.0 over the past three seasons, meaning he neither helps, nor really hurts, a team’s defense.
With 162-game averages of .268 with 27 home runs and 93 RBI over a nine-year major league career, LaRoche seems like a good source of production. A closer look at the numbers suggests that he might fall short of those expectations if he were to join Boston.
Other than six games he had with the Red Sox in 2009, LaRoche has played his entire career in the National League.
LaRoche has batting average/OBP/OPS splits of .243/.306/.730 in 106 career interleague games against the AL, which are well below his career marks of .268/.338/.830.
Additionally, LaRoche has typically under-performed against good teams. His career splits of .252/.325/.760 against teams with winning records could portend disappointment if his new home was the ultra-competitive AL East.
Combining LaRoche’s age with the warning signs from some of his stats suggests he may not be the best fit in Boston. Heck, there are no guarantees Napoli will do well. However, there may not be better alternatives.
If the Red Sox do finish their contract with Napoli, it’s highly unlikely they will pursue LaRoche. WEEI’s Alex Speier wrote that the team is nearing the 2013 luxury tax threshold of $178 million— being approximately $9 million under as things stand today.
The 2013 Red Sox first base position has come to be defined by uncertainty and it appears that adding LaRoche would only compound that issue. Only time will tell how it will all play out.
Statistics via BaseballReference