September 19, 2012; Anaheim, CA, USA; Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli (25) hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Why Didn't Mike Napoli Reassess His Options After His Multi-Year Deal With the Red Sox Collapsed?

The danger with breaking a story is that sometimes unanticipated last-second events change what appears to be a done deal into anything but one. If that wasn’t true, Alex Rodriguez would have been traded from Texas Rangers to the Boston Red Sox, Cliff Lee would have been traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees, and Al Gore would have been president of the United States. Another good example, if not one as significant, was when catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli reportedly agreed to a 3-year, 39 million dollar contract with the Red Sox this offseason. It was only over a week later that we first heard about a holdup in the deal, an issue with Napoli’s hip. And only yesterday was it officially confirmed that Napoli had agreed to a deal with the Red Sox- for just one year and 5 million dollars, although incentives could bring the contract up to 13 million dollars. Despite all the incentives, it’s still lucid that the terms of Napoli’s final contract was astronomically worse than the terms of his original. That begs a question- if Napoli’s deal was so significantly reduced in the end, why didn’t he go back on the market if see if he could get something better?

One year, 5 million dollars. This from a player who made 9.4 million dollars in 2012 and is just two years removed from a season where he hit to a .320/.414/.631 line, a ridiculous 173 OPS+, with 25 doubles, 30 homers, and 75 RBI in 432 plate appearances. Even Napoli’s numbers in an off-year in 2012 were numbers many players would covet as he managed a .227/.343/.469 line (110 OPS+) with 24 home runs. After a season like that, it seemed like Napoli might be looking for one- or two-year deal to try to reestablish his value and get a long-term deal a year or two from now. But as it turns out, even though Napoli has never been a good player defensively at catcher, his ability to hit and hit for power just as well as he does while having the ability to catch on a semi-regular basis left his value still quite high even after his down season, leading to his signing a three-year, 39 million dollar contract with the Red Sox back in December. Now that his hip injury, though, it seems to make a lot of sense that Napoli would end up with an incentive-laden one-year deal. But was the Red Sox’ contract really the best offer?

Mike Napoli isn’t necessarily going to go on the DL next season. He was diagnosed with avascular necrosis in both of his hips, and so far the condition has been symptomless. Napoli is set to play a lot of first base for the Red Sox, and that should also help him keep his chances of staying healthy as high as possible. But Napoli has a problem, and pain in his hips that sidelines him could be inevitable. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a couple of the main symptoms of avascular necrosis are gradually increasing pain in the hip joint and eventually a limited range of motion in the joint. Napoli has not reached that point yet and it’s not clear when that will happen, but if the pain becomes too much to bear and Napoli’s slowly decreasing maneuverability in his hip joint begin to affect his play, he’s going to eventually require surgery. With Napoli facing a situation like this, wouldn’t he aim for financial security? Napoli could earn 13 million dollars in 2013 if he stays healthy and plays well, but if he gets hurt and misses a significant portion of the year, he will have made 5 million dollars for 2013 and be stuck looking for another contract with a low-base salary following the year. No team would have been willing to offer Napoli a two-year deal at say 14 or 15 million dollars? No team would have agreed with Napoli on a contract with a player option to protect him should he get hurt? Obviously both of those contracts have the signing team assuming risk, but when the player is as talented as Mike Napoli wouldn’t some team be willing to take it?

Napoli told Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors that “the best fit for me was in Boston.” Why was that? Don’t say that it’s because they have the catching depth to let him play first base because any number of teams could have done that (for example, if the Rays had signed him, they would have started him everyday at first base against lefties while having him play some DH and doing some catching against righties). Is it Fenway Park? That could very well be a factor because of how strong of a hitter’s park it is and how it could give Napoli a better chance at a big deal following the season because it gives him an opportunity to put up significantly better numbers (especially compared to a pitcher’s ballpark like the Trop). But is that enough to warrant sacrificing financial security? How is that possible? The answer is that we have to take into account more than just physical benefits for playing for Boston but psychological ones as well. If Napoli had been all set to sign the big three-year deal with Boston but then had learned about the knee injury and headed elsewhere, it would have been a major letdown as not only would the multi-deal he had waited his entire career for have come and gone, but he also would have missed his opportunity to play in the organization that he considered the possible fit for him. Especially if Napoli were to stay healthy in 2013 while playing for a different team but not live up to the standard expected of him offensively, he would always have to wonder how things would have changed had he decided to renegotiate with the Red Sox and come to Boston even after the multi-year pact fell part.

It was not nearly the way he expected it would happen and the salary figure was far lower than he thought it would be, but Mike Napoli got his wish, ending up in Boston with the Red Sox. Teams like the Rays would have hoped that Napoli might reconsider joining the Red Sox after his hip issue was diagnosed, but considering how much Napoli was looking forward to joining the Red Sox and simply the way everything transpired, that was never something that was realistically going to happen.

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Tags: Boston Red Sox Mike Napoli Tampa Bay Rays

  • scott

    he did consider the market in fact the rangers offered him 2 years for more money but he wanted playing time. And don’t throw the rays into this they were never going to pay the guy more than the red sox anyway. Bottom line is he was damaged goods and didn’t have much of a choice if he wanted to start everyday.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      I’d love to know where you’re getting that information from, but even if that’s true, there was never seemed to be very much doubt on the Red Sox’ end that they would eventually get him signed and he never actively left negotiations with the Red Sox even temporarily to see where the market for him was at. By the way, this is a Tampa Bay Rays site, which is why I used the Rays as an example even if a deal between them was never close (although it was rumored at one point).

      • gwell55

        Actually Robbie it did come out from Mike and his agent that the Rangers did in fact come back with an offer for him (after the 39M went back) that was for more money then the 5 M guarantee BUT HE did say in his Redsox announcement that he wanted the playing time and he felt 1st base would help him further along in his career. Go back and check Weei and/or the globe in Boston if you don’t believe scott.

        • Robbie_Knopf

          Yep, you guys are right (I found it in an article from ESPN Boston) and I’ll apologize for doubting you, but my point still seems to make sense: why did Napoli never seriously consider another offer if what he got from the Red Sox at the end of the day might have been less than what he could have gotten somewhere else? We were all waiting for that MLBTR headline saying something like “Deal with Red Sox Officially Dead, Napoli Surveying Options” and it never came. It was always that Napoli was technically a free agent but still confident that a deal with Boston would eventually get done. Even as the Rangers offered him more money, Napoli’s focus seemed to remain on signing with the Red Sox the entire time.

          • gwell55

            “but my point still seems to make sense:
            why did Napoli never seriously consider another offer if what he got
            from the Red Sox at the end of the day might have been less than what he
            could have gotten somewhere else? ”

            I think if we did a little deeper the reason was Mike believes he was healthier than the doc’s report… and thus is his eyes he feels 13 million to play first is better than less playing time from the rangers or whoever made or would of made another offer. Anyway in his interview he mentions that.

            But who knows especially in the eyes of the baseball offices or even the fans. He is gambling on the “guaranteed part” but after the injury report AND the Players Association saying outright that they sided with the Sox after the 2nd opinion came out the same.

            Someone noted Seattle backed off when Naps agent called. To me that says a lot because Seattle is HARD PRESSED right now to get anyone to want to play there even now that they are moving in the fences to help the hitters. Doesn’t that to you also say most all the GMs were concerned about any offers at catcher to Nap? And the Sox offering more playing time we know he stated in his interview pushed him in that direct.

            Your blog is good though. Hope you do well with it!

  • Bob Bunker

    I was confused as why he didn’t try to start more of a bidding war but maybe there is more to the injury issues then we know and the Sox doctors would have released it if he went to sign somewhere else. Also, maybe Napoli genuinely felt like he owed the Red Sox since they were the original team to look into him and offer 3 years even if they rescinded it due to what they found.

  • pft2

    Napoli full expects to be healthy and will make 13 million if he is, this coming off a 2 WAR season. Would the Rays have been willing to match that? Even the Rangers did not make Napoli a QO. A much better deal for him than 2 years at 14 million (7 million each)

    If Napoli does have a good year, the Red Sox would make him a QO, over 13.3 million, which he likely accepts. That gets him 2 yrs at 26+ million.

    Worst case, his hip bothers him all season, he has an awful year missing over 1/2 the year on the DL, and still makes 5 million. His career is likely over and he needs surgery.

    Including the 5 million base this year. Mike Napoli will have had career earnings of 26 million with a nice pension to look forward to, Maybe not rich, but he certainly has a level of financial security.

    I very much doubt Napoli is coming to Boston because he likes Boston so much. According to Ryan Dempster, Napoli is not a happy camper with the Red Sox backing offf on their original offer so much. If there was a better offer out there, he certainly would have explored it. The fact he did not come to Boston for a press conference after the deal was complete proves this.

  • start_wearing_purple

    I won’t pretend I know what kind of man Napoli is, but I have to wonder if part of it is a matter of honor. He made a deal to play for a team and he saw it through after circumstances changed.

    The other thing is I seriously doubt he would have gotten a much better offer. With his diagnosis no team is going to offer a multi-year deal or a high base salary to someone who is basically a career ending injury time bomb. Even if he has a career year in Boston the best he can look forward to in the future is a heavily incentive laden deal with low-ish base salary and maybe a team option with a buyout that will be based on his status.