Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
Boston and the free agent dropped from three years to one, but in the end, it will make sense for both parties
On December 3, the Boston Red Sox and free agent Mike Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract. Soon after, whispers about his hip began to circulate, as his deal had not yet been made official. Since that point, whispers are all we've had to go on, as both the Sox and Napoli were near silent on the issues holding things up. Thursday, though, a month-and-a-half later, they finally agreed to a new contract.
What the two parties agreed upon is significantly different than the original proposal. The Red Sox got the protection against a hip injury they wanted in the form of a one-year contract with just $5 million guaranteed. However, should Napoli not visit the disabled list for his hip, he will receive the $13M for 2013 that was first agreed upon. This might seem like it shortchanges Napoli, but the Red Sox sacrificed having him around guaranteed for 2014 and 2015 in order to see how his hip looks -- and how it reacts -- to a full season at first base. Plus, on Napoli's end, it works much better than a contract with incentives based on plate appearances. Should Napoli have an unrelated injury -- say he breaks his hand after being hit by a pitch -- it won't interfere with whether he gets his $13 million or not. Boston isn't concerned if Napoli is injury prone, just that his hip could be a problem. If not, they'll gladly pay him for a full season of services rendered.
You might think the preference is for Napoli to haul in as much guaranteed money as possible, and that's likely the case, but who was he going to get it from? Only four teams expressed serious interest in Napoli prior to the hip issues, and once the Mariners got a look at his medicals, they backed off without even making an offer. The Indians did make an offer, but they have spent their off-season budget by this point. The Rangers reportedly offered more guaranteed money than Boston, but Napoli turned that down, likely because that team already has a new starting catcher in A.J. Pierzynski, a new designated hitter in Lance Berkman, and Mitch Moreland at first base once more. More money, but a less-defined role, and less of a chance to prove himself healthy in time for a weak 2013-2014 first base market.
Next year, Napoli will have to contend with first basemen like 38-year-old Paul Konerko, as well as Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales. That's not bad, but it's about all the market has: the rest involves the same kind of players who received one-year deals this winter, like Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, James Loney, Carlos Pena, as well as Todd Helton and Eric Hinske. Justin Morneau is also a free agent, but no one is quite sure what he is now, never mind a year from now, thanks to potential long-term effects from his concussions.
If Napoli can survive 2013 with his hip intact, he should be able to pull in a contract similar to, if not better than, what the Red Sox walked away from. Boston could also give him the qualifying offer, which he could either accept, or the two sides could negotiate a two-year deal to bring the sides back to where they were a month ago. Should he reject the offer and move on, the Red Sox would get compensation when he signed elsewhere, or, if teams are wary of giving up a draft pick for him, it would put power back in their hands to negotiate a new deal.
There might be an incentive to take the qualifying offer, though. It's based on the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and between the writing of that rule in last winter's new collective bargaining agreement and the start of the 2012-2013 off-season, the price jumped around $1 million. If the qualifier is upwards of $15 million for next off-season, combined with Napoli's $13 million in 2013, he would actually make more than he would have over those two years, had the original deal gone through. And, if he hits like he's expected to at Fenway, he'll more than justify the splurging.
There are a lot of ifs in all of this, of course. If Napoli isn't healthy, Boston doesn't have a first baseman, but at least they have some payroll left to acquire one. That will be small comfort to Napoli, though, who would then likely be forced into another one-year deal situation in the off-season, making him part of the Youkilis/Reynolds class rather than the potential top target at the position. All in all, though, the two sides took a difficult situation and compromised on something with upside for both, with the other sacrificing something of value in the process. This could be the start of a longer relationship or Napoli and the Red Sox, but, thanks to renegotiation, if his hip isn't all there, it doesn't have to be.