The MLB Winter Meetings were underway for just a few hours before the Boston Red Sox made the first big move, by signing catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli to a 3-year, $39-million deal. Between the needs he fills and the fact that the team tried to bring him to Boston two years ago, it was no secret that Napoli was one of Boston’s top offseason priorities. Additionally, his signing paves the way for the rest of the team’s winter moving forward, which now also includes a new dilemma at another position because of this deal.
Over the last several years with the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, Napoli has been one of the better offensive catchers in the game. Though a career .259 hitter, he has power that few others at his position have. He’s had at least 20 homeruns in every season since 2008 though he’s played in more than 114 games only once. In 2011, Napoli had the best season of his career, hitting .320/.414/.631, but that dropped to .227/.343/.469 last season and his 125 strikeouts were third-most among all catchers, despite having just 352 at bats.
One of the things the Red Sox are trying to accomplish with this deal, though, is adding a right-handed power hitter to their lineup, which they have seemingly accomplished. As the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham reports, Napoli’s .931 OPS over the last two years is fifth among right-handed batters, behind only Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, and Matt Kemp. That bodes well for Fenway Park, where he has had a history of success. In 62 career at bats, he has hit .306/.397/.710 with 7 homeruns and 17 RBI.
The addition of Napoli has more far-reaching implications for the Red Sox, too. Though he has been a catcher for the majority of his career, he will primarily be a first baseman in Boston, while still getting some work in behind the plate and filling in for designated hitter David Ortiz. This means the team will likely end its discussions with Adam LaRoche and focus on other priorities, among them, what to do in the outfield. By adding Jonny Gomes, the Red Sox have addressed their left field need, but there is still the question of what to do in right. They are in on Nick Swisher and Cody Ross and there is some belief that they could consider signing Josh Hamilton. Even by committing $13-million per year to Napoli, the Red Sox still have money to spend after the unloading of a quarter-billion dollars of payroll in August, so these potential acquisitions will not be out of the question for financial reasons.
Another issue for the Red Sox is now what to do behind the plate. Napoli will still catch at times, meaning the team now has four catchers on the roster, along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway, and David Ross. Ross just signed a 2-year deal with the Red Sox, so logic would seem to dictate that Saltalamacchia or Lavarnway could be on the move. Saltalamacchia is no longer the coveted prospect he once was as the centerpiece of a Mark Teixeira trade, but he’s still only 27-years-old and has proven he can be a productive catcher, hitting 25 homeruns last year. The Red Sox would probably receive a better package for Lavarnway, though the team believes the 25-year-old is the catcher of the future.
As for what Napoli’s departure means for the Rangers, they now have to decide how to replace him. The team did sign Geovany Soto to a one-year deal, but his .196/.253/.338 line in 47 games with the club last year doesn’t turn a lot of heads. So, unless Texas feels comfortable with him as their primary backstop, they could make a play for another free agent like A.J. Pierzynski. Losing Napoli will also likely hurt more if the Rangers lose Josh Hamilton, too. They appear to be going all out to keep him, but losing both him and Napoli would put a big dent into one of the league’s most potent offenses. If he does decide to sign elsewhere, they, like the Red Sox, could look toward Swisher or Ross to replace him.