Mike Napoli is officially the first somewhat big name off the board during this offseason’s winter meetings! Napoli and the Red Sox reached an agreement that the slugger will become the team’s new first baseman for three years and get paid $39 million for his services. Napoli of course also brings his ability to sort-of catch to the table, so the revamped Sox can throw him behind the plate here and there whenever they see fit. Napoli’s not great back there, so he figures to primarily offer home run power at a position that demands it most of the time.
Napoli excelled in 2011, posting an incredible .445 wOBA in his 432 PA. Last season was not as kind to Napoli, as the 31-year-old hit .227/.343/.469 with 24 homers in 417 PA. Napoli has always shown plus power, and a change of scenery from the extremely hitter friendly Texas to Boston shouldn’t affect him a whole lot; he actually posted a higher OPS on the road in 2012 (.839 to .785). The biggest difference in Napoli’s awesome 2011 and every other season in his career was an inflated BABIP (.344 vs. his career mark of .299), and there’s no reason to expect a player like this has many high batting average seasons in his bag.
The Red Sox probably overpaid a bit for Napoli, as he doesn’t offer much of anything on defense or on the basepaths. Still, he has real power and has established himself as a constant drawer of walks. He’ll post a respectable OBP even if his batting average tanks as it did a year ago, and he’ll almost certainly still be above average offensively even when used primarily as a first baseman. All things considered, the Red Sox are probably paying market value for their new prize. That’s fine if the team hopes to contend, and based on what we’ve been hearing, they do.
Still, the Sox have the whole injury risk thing to worry about. Throughout Napoli’s career he’s had trouble getting very many trips to the plate. A lot of that was due to the fact that he spent plenty of time behind the plate and plenty of time being managed by a rabidly moronic Mike Scoscia, but it’s not as if Napoli’s been durable either. Using Napster as a first baseman most of the time, we’re willing to give the Red Sox a pass on this one and call the deal fair enough if the slugging continues.