Mike Napoli is creatying a very positive post-season reputation for himself. His home run in Game 3 of the 2013 ALCS, off Justin Verlander, helped erase what has been a tough series for him otherwise.
The Boston Red Sox have to be pleased with the return on what’s going to end up a $13-million investment in Napoli. He gave them 63 extra-base hits and 73 walks in 587 plate appearances during the regular season, staying fairly healthy and using the Green Monster well, even if it stole a few homers from him over the course of the season.
Once the Red Sox’s playoff run ends, whenever that is, they’re going to have a decision to make. Because of a hip condition that voided a three-year initial pact, Napoli will be a free agent. Boston must choose whether to offer him $14.1 million on a one-year deal, which would qualify them to receive draft-pick compensation should he sign elsewhere.
I lean toward making Napoli that offer. He was worth 2.4 WARP, per Baseball Prospectus, in 2013. That’s two straight seasons at that number. It’s also right about the number that translates to $14-15 million in free-agent marginal win value. He needs only to roughly duplicate this season in order to be a worthwhile investment, and I think he could do that.
Because he’ll turn 32 on Halloween, he’s also unlikely to accept that offer. This will probably be Napoli’s last chance to secure a multi-year deal, and one would assume he’ll go out in search of one, not settle for a one-year commitment.
On the other hand, there are red flags here, things that might make Napoli come running back if the Red Sox make their offer, and that might make the Sox hesitate to do so. The hip injury ended his career behind the plate—he’s grown out that beard, which is in part an acknowledgement that he no longer has to worry about what works under a catcher’s mask. He also battled plantar fasciitis late in the season, calling into question how healthy he can really stay, even as an everyday first baseman.
There are also the strikeouts. Napoli has seen his strikeout rate get a bit out of control over the past few seasons, He fanned in just 19.7 percent of his plate appearances in 2011, but that number shot up to 30.0 percent in 2012, and (improbably) climbed even as he improved in 2013, to 32.3 percent.
He’s also walking more, and after sagging a bit in 2012, his power showed up in abundance in 2013. Still, one has to wonder how much of this he can sustain if he leaves Fenway, as he heads into his mid-30s. Subverting that argument is the fact that he actually hit a bit better, and had a bit more power, on the road last season, but it still feels true.
Laying out both sides of the argument, I find myself much more compelled by the one in favor of offering him the deal. The flood of money into the game alone ensures that a one-year, $14.1-million commitment isn’t going to end up being onerous. Beyond that, Napoli’s profile seems to me to be one that will age fine, so long as the rest and recovery time of an abbreviated winter is enough to heal his feet, or at least ameliorate them. The blend of caontact issues and injury issues, though, would limit my interest in any multi-year deal. He’ll be an interesting free-agent case, and is probably a 50-50 bet or better to stay in Boston, at this moment.Next post: Fun With Fake Trades: How David Price Could be a Cardinal
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