It’s been nearly a month since the Boston Red Sox decided to sign free-agent first baseman/catcher Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39 million deal, according to Sean McAdam of Comcast SportsNet New England, and yet the team hasn’t officially announced the signing.
This has led to plenty of speculation as to what could have gone wrong, but many have focused on Napoli’s health and whether or not something came up when he took his physical.
The Boston Red Sox are still giving no official comment on what the heck is going on with Mike Napoli. But their actions—perhaps—speak louder than words. While the Sox prefer to complete their deal with Napoli, they also are talking to free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, according to major league sources.
Since Napoli is still technically unsigned, the Red Sox could give his money to LaRoche who hit .271/.343/.510 with 33 home runs and 100 RBI with the National League East champion Washington Nationals last season.
Although Boston could decide to give LaRoche less money than they were planning on paying Napoli, the years may have to stay the same, according to Rosenthal:
The discussions involve two- and three-year possibilities, sources say. LaRoche, 33, wants a three-year deal, and that has been the main obstacle in his talks with his former club, the Washington Nationals.
One of the big differences between the two players is that LaRoche would be restricted to first base whereas Napoli could also catch—giving the Red Sox some leeway if they wanted to trade one of the three catchers on their roster.
But the more important difference is how LaRoche and Napoli have performed over the last few years. LaRoche just completed the best season of his career while Napoli had a down year after having a fantastic 2011.
Would the Red Sox rather have a player potentially on the rise or potentially on the decline?
Well, Boston ended up choosing the player potentially on the decline since the Red Sox came to terms with Napoli. That doesn’t mean, however, that Napoli won’t be somewhere else on Opening Day while LaRoche suits up for the Red Sox.
At this point in the offseason, it seems more likely that the Red Sox will come away with LaRoche and let Napoli try and negotiate with any team seeking a first baseman. If the issue holding up the official announcement wasn’t a big deal, the Red Sox would have just announced it already.
But clearly it is a big deal.
Besides a three-year deal, there shouldn’t be many strings attached to LaRoche. He is obviously fine after having shoulder surgery midway through the 2011 season, otherwise he wouldn’t have had such a productive 2012. Even if Napoli’s swing may be better fit for Fenway Park, LaRoche is the safer bet now.
If general manager Ben Cherington can catch a mistake early—like signing a player with medical red flags—and correct it without having to give up anything, it’ll be one of the best decisions he’s made in his young career.