The Boston Red Sox are doing extensive background work on Mike Napoli, who could fit their roster as a catcher, first baseman or combination catcher/first baseman/designated hitter against lefties, sources tell ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney.
The 31-year-old Napoli reportedly prefers to catch, but he’s probably a better fit for the Red Sox at first base considering their catching situation, which is now three-deep after the addition of David Ross over the weekend.
Napoli had a subpar season by his standards, hitting .227, but added 24 homers in just 108 games. He missed time with a quadrideps injury. Upon returning to the team in mid-September, Napoli hit seven homers among 13 hits in the final 15 games of the season. In 2011, Napoli put up career-best numbers for the Rangers, belting 30 homers to go along with a .320 average and a staggering 1.046 OPS (his career OPS is .863).
He’s not exactly a Gold Glover at first base, but he has played 133 games there, including 28 last season.
As we saw with Cody Ross, who proved to be a perfect fit at Fenway Park, we already know Boston’s home park brings out the best in Napoli. He is 19 for 62 with seven homers in his career there.
The right-handed-hitting Napoli is ranked 13th among ESPN.com baseball Insider Keith Law’s Top 50. He calls Napoli “a classic ‘old player’s skills’ layer, patient with power, striking out a lot and contributing little on defense. As long as he can catch part-time, he's an everyday player who has a chance to be above average, but his defense has always been shaky and he probably couldn't catch full-time even if a team wanted him to.
"He does get on base even when he's not hitting for average, and his power isn't just dead-pull, so there are reasons to think he won't head off the cliff as a hitter in his early 30s. But if he's mostly a first baseman or DH, that bat's a lot less valuable."
Former GM -- and current ESPN.com analyst -- Jim Bowden predicted Napoli would command in the neighborhood of a three-year deal for $27 million, an average salary of $9 million per season.
Bowden notes that "he still hit for power and can take a walk."
Interestingly, the Rangers did not extend Napoli a $13.3 million qualifying offer, which would have awarded them a draft pick if Napoli turned the deal down and he signed elsewhere. Rangers GM Jon Daniels, however, has said he wants Napoli back.
"He’s been a big part of this club for a couple of years and we’d like to have him back," Daniels told ESPNDallas.com. "But for the first move of the offseason to be effectively having him back at that number was not something we wanted to do right now. He may have declined (it). I would imagine they'll be a good deal of interest in him out there. You've got to be OK with it either way and we didn't want to start the offseason making that investment at that dollar number."