We heard at the beginning of December that Mike Napoli and the Boston Red Sox had agreed to a 3-year, 39 million dollar contract. Then we waited for the deal to become official, something that seemed to be inevitable. Then in turned out that it wasn’t. Ken Rosenthal reported last week that the teams hit a wall in discussions after a physical revealed a problem in one of Napoli’s hips. Now the Red Sox are talking to Adam LaRoche as a fallback and Napoli has discussed a possible deal with at least one team other than Boston. Napoli could very well end up in Boston despite the recent fanfare to the contrary, but at this point things are very much up in the air. With a deal far from a certainty at this point, is there any chance the Rays could enter the talks for Napoli?
Back in November, we discussed Napoli as a possible target for the Rays, concluding that he would be a major addition to the Rays lineup, but even if Napoli had to settle for a 1-year deal, the money just didn’t work. Now, two big things have changed: firstly, the news of Napoli’s hip concern, and secondly, the Rays’ trade of James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals, which primarily set the Rays up for the future but also saved the Rays 13.05 million dollars in salaries for 2013, which may give the Rays a bit more financial flexibility. Do those two factors change anything regarding the Rays’ pursuit of Napoli?
There are two ways to look at Napoli’s injury as it pertains to his free agency this offseason. The first line of thinking is that now is the perfect time for Napoli to sign a multi-year deal knowing that his injury clouds the future for him and he better take as much guaranteed money that he can get. However, the flip-side is that Napoli should sign a one-year deal, prove himself to be healthy, and set himself up for a big multi-year contract next year. Especially when you consider that Napoli was already coming off a down year, managing just a 110 OPS+ that was his lowest mark since 2007 after putting up a 173 OPS+ in 2011, Napoli could be a perfect fit for the type of pillow contract that ex-teammate Adrian Beltre signed with the Boston Red Sox for the 2010 season before landing his big free agent contract with the Texas Rangers. In that contract, Beltre made 9 million dollars in 2010 and had a 5 million dollar player option for 2011 which he declined, and agreeing to that same type of deal would give Napoli the ability to go back on the market after 2013 if he stays healthy and the year goes well, and if he were to get hurt or struggle again, at least he would have some financial security. The parallel also stretches further because Beltre missed time in 2009 after undergoing shoulder surgery and injury was an additional concern for him beyond simply poor performance. Could a team offer Beltre a contact like that? Could that team be the Rays?
The Rays are not going to go in for 9 million dollars on a player with a preexisting injury coming off a down year. But if Napoli offers them a bit of a hometown discount- he was born in Hollywood, Florida- and get the price down to closer to 7 or 8 million dollars, he would have to be a player they would take a long look at taking a shot on. Would they offer him a second year option like Beltre’s deal? Their policy has been to do the exact opposite, to tack on team options to deals, but if a one year option at a low annual value is all it would take, it’s very hard to see them turning that down. Napoli could a major contributor for the Rays- he has hit 20 or more home runs the last five seasons while managing a 131 OPS+, and the Rays have at-bats to offer him at catcher (his preferred position), first base, and designated hitter. If they can get him for the right price, they’ll jump on the opportunity.
It will be extremely interesting to see just how much Mike Napoli’s value has fallen because of his hip injury and what his strategy will be in wake of that. Anything can happen at this point and the next few weeks will be exciting as we find out exactly how Napoli’s renewed free agency will transpire. If a short-term deal becomes a possibility and the price gets low enough- two big but also conceivable “ifs”- we may just see a major reversal in the AL East as Napoli could go from being all but in a Red Sox uniform to calling Tampa Bay his home for 2013.