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Thursday, January 10, 2013
Cherington on Napoli: 'We're still talking'

By Gordon Edes

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, appearing on WEEI on Thursday night, said he could offer no update on negotiations with free agent first baseman/catcher Mike Napoli, other than to say the sides are still talking.

"We're still talking, and when you're talking, there's hope for a resolution,'" Cherington said. "But nothing to report right now.

"We have had dialogue [with Napoli's agent, Brian Grieper]. It's one of those situations, out of respect to Mike and the process, I'm not going to get into detail. Whenever we're talking and there's dialogue, it means we're hopeful of being able to do something, but we just don't know yet. We'll see how it plays out."

It is now 38 days since the Sox and Napoli reached agreement on a deal that was to have paid him $39 million over three years. The deal hinged on Napoli taking a physical, and concerns about a hip condition surfaced that have cast the deal in some doubt. Clearly, the Sox are attempting to rework the terms of the deal in some fashion; what neither side has been willing to say is whether the Sox have asked to include language that would protect them against injury, as they did with J.D. Drew in 2007, or are simply seeking a reduction of the dollars and/or years they've offered to Napoli.

The players' union, which had been consulted by Napoli and his agent, has not been in contact with Grieper since before Christmas and said it regarded Napoli as an unsigned free agent.

It took the Sox 52 days to make Drew's five-year, $70 million deal official after including language that would have allowed the Sox to void the deal after three years if Drew had reinjured his right shoulder. That didn't happen, and Drew collected his full salary before retiring after the 2011 season.

Boston's options at first base beyond Napoli are limited. The Washington Nationals re-signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $24 million deal, and GM Mike Rizzo said he is not actively shopping outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse, who is a year away from free agency. The Rangers, Napoli's former team, recently signed Lance Berkman to a one-year, $10 million deal with a vesting option.

Earlier this offseason, the Yankees signed former Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis to a one-year, $12 million deal to play third base. James Loney, who came to the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, signed a one-year, $2 million deal with Tampa Bay. Other notable free-agent first basemen signed are Carlos Pena (one year, $2.9 million with the Astros) and Mark Reynolds (one year, $6 million, Indians).

Free-agent first basemen still available include Carlos Lee, Aubrey Huff, Lyle Overbay and Casey Kotchman, none of whom who would make the impact expected from Napoli, who was supposed to give the Sox a power bat from the right side.

At the moment, the only first basemen on Boston's 40-man roster are David Ortiz, the team's 37-year-old DH, and right-handed hitting Mauro Gomez, a minor league journeyman who made his big league debut with the Sox in his ninth season of pro ball. Gomez posted a .746 OPS with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 37 games in 2012.

The Red Sox also have invited former Cardinals farmhand Mark Hamilton, a left-handed hitting, 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, to big league camp.

The shrinking windows for both Napoli and the Red Sox would suggest that a deal ultimately will be struck, even if it seems to be taking as long as last winter's compensation deal for Theo Epstein.

"Until something is done, you have to consider other options, so we've had to do that and we've continued to consider other ways to improve the team, whether it's at first base or elsewhere," Cherington said on the radio station. "At this point, we just haven't found anything that made sense to us in the sort of big picture. So that's where we are. There's no one particular player that's available or not available that would have changed the course of our offseason. We're just examining and evaluating things as they come.

"Certainly when you have a position you're trying to improve on, until it's improved upon, you have to continue to consider other options. It's fair to say as you sort of get deeper into the winter, the free agents start to go off the board. You can look at trades and other ways to do things. It remains a focus. We're still hoping we can do something to improve ourselves in that area before we get to Fort Myers."