Jacoby Ellsbury and Robinson Cano are going to get the headlines. Treachery, real or imagined, wears well on a tabloid cover. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees brought back some key players last week, too, though, with Boston committing $32 million to keep Mike Napoli for two more years, and the Yankees paying $16 million for one year of Hiroki Kuroda.

The Beard is Back

It sounds like both the Rangers and Mariners tried to pry Napoli away from the Red Sox, but I never had much doubt about this one. After Jose Abreu signed with the other Sox, there wasn’t another reliable first baseman to be had. The Red Sox were not going to defend a World Series championship (one that presumably leaves them flush with cash) with James Loney or Logan Morrison or anyone in that vein. Napoli is a risky asset, since he strikes out at an alarming rate, but he also draws his share of walks, and his swing suits Fenway Park very nicely. He hits his fly balls high enough that the park doesn’t dampen his home-run count much, but he also racked up 38 doubles in 2013. He also took well to full-time first-base duty, showing a defensive aptitude that exceeded expectations.

In a strict, context-neutral sense, the Red Sox overpaid. They’re paying market value for his services, unless he declines, or that wild strikeout rate spirals, or he gets hurt. That’s not a good set of possible outcomes. There’s really no upside, theoretically. In a more practical sense, though, considering the real and singular replacement level out there at first base, and given the market this winter thus far, I can’t argue with the decision.

Kuroda Stays Stateside

It’s been weird for two straight winters, between the Yankees and Hiroki Kuroda. Reporters have consistently said that Kuroda was essentially unavailable to other teams, either staying with New York or heading back to Japan to finish his career. Each time, though, the Yankees have given him a qualifying offer, anyway, preempting any effort on his part to leverage his market against them, yet also obligating them to market-value money. Each winter, it has taken a while, but each time, Kuroda has returned for a bit more than the qualifying number.

With Kuroda back in the fold, the Yankees can turn their attention to other things, and that has value. He’s been excellent since coming over from the Dodgers before 2012. He’s on a third consecutive one-year deal. Cost certainty and a short term of commitment are major things in favor of this deal. Still, it’s not a shining beacon of value. Kuroda is old, and the last thing the Yankees need is to pony up this much money and see the player attached to it slide downhill. They’ve done a really poor job, so far, of divesting themselves of the injury- and age-related risk that drowned their playoff hopes in 2013. Kuroda is a good pitcher, but he and Carlos Beltran were a $31-million expenditure for 2014 alone, and the Yankees now have little hope of both fielding a competitive team and staying under the soft salary cap created by the salary-tax threshold, at $189 million. As one who cares not for the Steinbrenners’ profit margins, I’ll be much more forgiving of this move if it bespeaks a willingness to spend $200 million-plus and try to win back the AL East.

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