Will Napoli end up in a Sox uniform?

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
12:36
AM ET
Mike NapoliBrandon Wade/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty Images
While the Red Sox remain tight-lipped about Mike Napoli's status, the team's concerns about a hip condition discovered during Napoli's physical are sufficient enough to cast doubt on whether the team will proceed with plans to sign him.

"I honestly don't think the outcome has been determined," said one source with direct knowledge of the negotiations when asked Saturday whether the deal could fall through.

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington did not reply to an email Saturday citing a source saying the deal was in jeopardy.

It will be three weeks Monday since it was reported the Sox and the free-agent catcher/first baseman had come to terms on a three-year, $39 million contract, pending a physical. Napoli underwent what was expected to be a routine physical Dec. 10 and 11, with the expectation that a news conference announcing his signing would come the next day. That didn't happen. Instead, reports surfaced that there were undisclosed issues with his physical.

Will Carroll of SportsIllustrated.com first reported that a hip issue had been identified as the snag to the deal. Earlier this week, Cherington was asked directly about Carroll's report and declined comment.

On Friday, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com also wrote of a hip issue, citing reports that the Seattle Mariners backed off on their pursuit of Napoli because of concerns they had about his hip, but added that "the Sox apparently do not think Napoli's condition is that serious."

Saturday, multiple sources confirmed that Napoli's hip is the primary issue holding up the deal, but said simply adding contract language protecting the Sox as a remedy in case it proves to be debilitating may not be enough to salvage the agreement. Such contract language was inserted in prior deals the Sox did with outfielder J.D. Drew and pitcher John Lackey.

Napoli's agent, Brian Grieper, was also asked Saturday to respond to the contention the deal would not get done.

"I cannot comment at this time," Grieper said.

For now, Napoli remains a free agent. There is no signed agreement that has been submitted to the commissioner's office or the players' union, and Napoli is at liberty to negotiate with other teams. Both the union and commissioner's office are monitoring the situation.

The 31-year-old Napoli was expected to be a key component of the Sox's lineup next season. He has hit 20 or more home runs in each of the past five seasons and batted a career-high .320 in 2011 before slumping to .227 last year. Napoli has been on the disabled list five times in his career, not including the fractured ankle he sustained in the 2011 World Series, but never for a hip condition. He missed 34 games with a strained quad last season, missed 19 games with a strained abdomen in 2011, missed 27 games with a strained shoulder in 2008 before undergoing surgery, and missed a total of 43 games with ankle and hamstring injuries in 2007.

Napoli was projected to fill Boston's void at first base. If the deal doesn't come through, the Sox could turn to free agents Adam LaRoche or Nick Swisher, although both would cost the Sox a draft pick as compensation. They could also wait to see if Washington signs LaRoche, which could make the Nationals amenable to moving outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse in a deal. Morse, who turns 31 in March, hit 31 home runs and batted .303 in 2011, when he last played regularly, then hit 18 home runs in 406 at-bats while batting .291 last season.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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