Commentary

Sox might have to overpay for Napoli

He's the most attractive right-handed bat still available, which is bad news for Boston

Updated: December 6, 2013, 6:27 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

Welcome to the winter meetings edition of the mailbag, which has gathered a good deal of dust since we last broke it open. Thanks for all the questions.

Here we go:

Q. Last offseason, the Red Sox offered Mike Napoli a three-year deal before they found out about his hip condition. It is fair to say that he proved that he can play with the condition. So do you not think the Sox would offer him a two-year contract worth the same money as the original contract minus the one year? -- Sean, Missoula, Mont.

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioWill David Ortiz get to tug on Mike Napoli's beard in 2014?

A. Sean, it's going to take much better than a two-year deal to get Napoli signed. He proved his durability last season, played a much better first base than anyone had reason to expect, and was invaluable as a right-handed bat in the middle of the order, despite his streakiness and strikeouts. He had a 4.1 WAR, and even though his isolated power (ISO) has fallen from to .312 to .223 (still a strong number) in two years and he may have profited from a high BABIP (.367), he may be the most attractive right-handed bat on the market. I think Texas, where he loved playing, will bid for him, and there were reports Friday afternoon that the Mariners might be in on him, too. I expect it will take a three-year deal for a higher average annual value than the Sox offered him last year ($13 million), and it would not shock me at all if a club offered a fourth year, or at least a club-option fourth year. I have serious doubts the Red Sox would do so.

Q. Napoli is Boston's top offseason priority to re-sign, and I expect they may have to overpay to do so. They have had internal conversations about what they might do if he walks -- perhaps a platoon at first base with Daniel Nava, with Mike Carp playing left field against righties, and possibly sliding Will Middlebrooks to first if Stephen Drew re-signs. But losing Napoli would be a big hit. I think the Angels would be a perfect trade partner. Mark Trumbo would be under team control for a couple of years and they need starting pitching. He could be our future first baseman for a very long time. Downfall is that he strikes out to much but the upside is greater. Dempster/Barnes/one or two lower-end prospects for Trumbo? Same scenario for Billy Butler. -- Chris, Atlanta

A. Chris, you lay out a plausible scenario, with Trumbo being a young right-handed power bat, but the Angels want young starting pitching back, and I'm not sure the Sox would trade one of their upper-tier prospects (Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster and forget about Henry Owens) for a guy with a sub-.300 OBP. I think they feel Middlebrooks has the potential to profile at least as well. I doubt very much the Royals move Butler, and Angels GM Jerry DiPoto said he's inclined to hold onto Trumbo, although I think he'd be inclined to move him in the right deal.

SportsNation

If you were running the Red Sox, how long of a contract would you offer Mike Napoli?

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Discuss (Total votes: 14,109)

Q. I have a question about Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees supposedly trying to get below the $189 million luxury tax number. If A-Rod's suspension for all of 2014 were to be upheld, would that really free up the full $25 million for the purposes of getting below the luxury tax? Or would the Yankees still be stuck with the AAV of the contract for 2014? -- Jayson, New York

A. It's my understanding, Jayson, that the $25 million comes off the books, which is why the Yanks believe they could sign Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Hiroki Kuroda and at least one more big-ticket free agent (Shin-Soo Choo?) and still stay under the $189 million threshold. And now with Robinson Cano gone, they may be in on other big-ticket items as well.

Q. Aside from re-signing Napoli, what do you feel should be Boston's next "big" move, if anything at all? Also, what are the chances the Red Sox place a bid on Masahiro Tanaka and then trade one or two of their current starters? -- Anthony, Niagara Falls, N.Y.

A. Anthony, last month during the GM meetings, I cited a source as saying the market for shortstop Stephen Drew was such that the Sox would not be able to bring him back on a short-term contract, that he would land a multiyear deal elsewhere. Well, so far, that multiyear deal hasn't materialized, and the Red Sox remain very interested in trying to sign Drew. Their need to do so would increase significantly, I believe, if they lose Napoli. If Napoli goes, Drew could play short, rookie Xander Bogaerts could play third, and the Sox could use a platoon of Nava and Middlebrooks at first. With the ceiling for the posting bid for Tanaka set at $20 million, I don't know why the Red Sox wouldn't take a run at him. Any time you have a shot at a good young pitcher and it will cost you only money, and not prospects, you've got to take it.

Q. Are the Marlins putting Giancarlo Stanton up for trade? With the deep Red Sox farm system and payroll flexibility now that they don't have to pay $20 million for Ellsbury, it would seem like a real possibility. -- Moses, Boston

A. Moses, every time I ask whether the Marlins would entertain trading Stanton, my sources usually give me the same answer: No way. They still view him as a foundational piece.

Q. Which of these scenarios do you think is most likely?

1. Sox put together a blockbuster package for their division rival in exchange for David Price's age 28-29 seasons, strike while the iron is hot; let him go after 2015, collect sandwich pick, move on.

2. The Sox wait for Price to be traded somewhere else and bid high on him as a FA after 2015 for his age 30-35 seasons, with a core of young, cheap players facilitating a big bid; give up a first-rounder in 2016.

3. Both. Trade for him and sign him to an extension, no picks change hands; Price becomes the ace of the Sox rotation for more years than he was Tampa's, strives for Cooperstown with a 'B' on his cap.

4. None of the above. Ben Cherington has a good enough thing going that he doesn't need to reach so far for the brass ring. -- Max, Sparks, Nev.

A. Max, no chance that the Rays trade Price within the division, in my opinion. Dodgers or Mariners is much more likely landing spot, though Andrew Friedman will have lots to choose from. None will involve the Sox, though.

Q. Would this be a doable rest of the offseason? Re-sign Napoli, either sign Curtis Granderson or deal for Matt Kemp, add Joel Hanrahan on a one-year deal (where better to finish rehab and make a comeback than the team that traded for him last year?), re-sign Drew on a 1-year deal. Then for a surprise, deal Jake Peavy and Ryan Lavarnway (pick up some money) to the Royals for two of their relievers and maybe a prospect. What do you think? -- Jacob Salisbury, Md.

A. Jacob, I think you may have a picture of Cherington or Billy Beane on your wall. Given this some thought, I see. Well, since the time that you wrote, Granderson is off the boards, my colleague Adam Rubin at ESPNNY.com reporting that the Mets will get him on a four-year, $60 million deal. Trading for Kemp is a longshot, but not implausible, especially if the Dodgers ate a big chunk of dough to bring the Sox obligation to around $18 million a year. Re-signing one of the rehab twins, Hanrahan or Andrew Bailey, makes a lot of sense, though I think the Sox may have more interest in keeping Bailey. I think there's a fair-to-middling chance that the Sox would trade one of their veteran pitchers, and Lavarnway can definitely be had. I would expect the Sox would want a prospect-laden package in return, or perhaps a complementary infielder on the left side or complementary outfielder to Jackie Bradley Jr.

Q. Is my mind incoherently land-locked, lonely isle (practicing straight-man), conjuring acquisition of a pre-eminently fat-contracted premium player, just moments past exquisite accomplishments of 2013 champion Red Sox bereft of same, when I offer the following?: Red Sox get Joe Mauer ($30 million offset; replacing Aeolian-Whiff King Napoli); supply Twins what they're sorely needing: pitching, infield bats (ascending OPS +): John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Franklin Morales, Middlebrooks, Lavarnway, Mike Carp. -- Brian, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

A. Brian, alas, your colorful (?) delivery trumps your execution. Super Joe is not on the Sox radar. He's got $115 owed over the next five years, and the Twins would want -- demand -- top pitching prospects back in return, as well as a Middlebrooks-type. Wish my editors would let me write like that --Aeolian-Whiff King Napoli? My nephew goes to school at Cal-SLO; I'll have to check and see how his mind is working these days.

Q. I thought the Sox grand plan was to develop talent that once it had proven it could excel in the high pressure environment of the AL East and Boston, we would use the large market revenue stream to retain? And supplement the roster with expensive short-term contracts? If this is the case, why not go after Ellsbury more aggressively? -- Doubled, Ohio

A. Doubled, you raise a very good point, which is why I believe it would be wrong to give the Sox a pass on not re-signing Ellsbury. It's foolish to argue that the Sox couldn't afford to do so; the money is obviously there. The Sox have made a value judgment that Ellsbury wasn't worth the money; or for that matter, that paying any player seven years or more is not worth it. That approach worked last season, but they already had a strong core of talent to build around. Now that core has been weakened by allowing Ellsbury to walk. Ellsbury, as I wrote, will have seven years and 19 face-to-face meetings per year to prove them wrong. I like Jackie Bradley Jr.'s prospects very much, but I can hardly believe the Sox would go into next season with Bradley in center and Shane Victorino in right, with no safety net if Bradley doesn't work out or Victorino gets hurt. And even if JBJ does, why not preserve an outfield that could have kept both JBJ and Ellsbury? That's why I keep thinking that the Sox believe they can do better, which is why I haven't ruled out Matt Kemp, especially if Sox don't re-sign Napoli.

Q. How likely is a trade of at least one of the starting pitchers? If Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster have a great spring, any chance that they get a spot in the rotation and the Sox trade two (preferably Dempster and Peavy)? -- Tim, Detroit

A. Tim, as I've mentioned before, I think the Sox will trade a veteran pitcher if the right deal comes along. My guess is that Brandon Workman would get the first crack at a starting spot; he's a strike-thrower who showed he was capable of handling the pressure. The Sox have a host of young pitchers, including the two you mention, Webster and De La Rosa, along with Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes, that could easily see time in the big leagues before the end of the 2014 season, but I think there's a belief all would profit from more seasoning. I'd be very surprised if the Sox traded two pitchers.

Q. Gordon, what are the chances that the Sox finally give Lavarnway a real chance to prove himself? For a number of reasons, it doesn't look like it will be behind the plate, but what about first base? Eliminating the physical and mental demands of catching might help Lavarnway return to the patient, power-hitting, bat that he seemed to be. Worst-case scenario, they could probably manage an effective platoon between Nava/Lavarnway/Carp/Gomes for first base and left field, best-case scenario they have their first baseman (or DH) for the next five-plus seasons. Doesn't he deserve a real chance (like Dustin Pedroia, Nava and Middlebrooks have had) to show what he can do? -- Ben, Phoenix

A. Ben, I agree with you that Lavarnway's chances of catching for the Sox have all but ended, and a deal is more likely than not. I don't believe catching prospect Blake Swihart will be ready by 2015 -- ideally the Sox would like to give him until '16 -- but I think Christian Vazquez could definitely be ready, perhaps in tandem with a vet. Haven't heard Lavarnway mentioned as a possible first baseman -- more talk about Middlebrooks moving over there.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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