- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- For those wondering if Mike Napoli was still celebrating winning the World Series, an exercise he embraced with great enthusiasm -- and at times without his shirt -- in its immediate aftermath, he had an answer Friday.
"I had a great time. It was something I'll never forget," the Boston Red Sox first baseman said in a conference call after officially signing a two-year, $32 million deal. "But for me, it makes me hungrier. I started training again. I can't wait to get back on the field and be with my teammates."
Napoli said there were a "lot of teams" bidding for his services and that he had a chance to sign elsewhere for three years.
"Ultimately, it came down, I told my agent [Brian Grieper], 'I want to come back to Boston and play there,'" Napoli said.
His return came without the drama that accompanied his signing with the team last year, when Napoli came to terms on a three-year, $39 million deal only to have it struck down when a physical revealed he had avascular necrosis, a degenerative hip condition. That deal was replaced by a one-year contract with a base salary of $5 million that included an incentive package of an added $8 million based on games played, which Napoli met.
Medication evidently halted the progress of the disease, confirmed by the periodic MRIs he was administered, and Napoli played in 139 games and made a career-high 578 plate appearances in 2013. He appeared in 15 games and made 52 plate appearances in the postseason.
Adding his new deal to the $13 million he was paid in 2013 means Napoli will be paid $45 million -- $6 million more than he would have earned under the terms of the original deal. General manager Ben Cherington said there is no language in this contract that would offer the Red Sox financial relief if the hip condition becomes a problem.
"After going through what I went through last year, it was definitely a relief just to go through this, and it was easier than last year," Napoli said.
Napoli finished with an OPS of .842 that ranked ninth-highest among major league first basemen. His career-best 92 RBIs also ranked ninth, and he was tied for ninth in home runs with 23.
His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was 4.1, which ranked seventh among first basemen. In the American League, only Orioles strongman Chris Davis (6.4, tied for second) and Joe Mauer of the Twins (5.4, fifth) ranked higher.
Napoli led all major league qualifiers in pitches seen per plate appearance (4.59), which in the Red Sox's view more than compensated for his 187 strikeouts, fourth most in the majors.
"We're confident that Mike is healthy, and we feel he's going to be a big part of our team over the next couple years," Cherington said. "[Re-signing him] was important. It was clearly one of our priorities as we got into the offseason.
"When we pursued Mike last year and ultimately signed him, we did that because we felt his skill set would really help us on the field, and we had also heard a lot about his reputation as a teammate and the other things that he brings to the table. Having spent several months around him, it became very clear that he was not just a really important part of the team on the field and what he does on the field, but a particularly important guy in the clubhouse.
"Really, just a lot of things that Mike does as a player are things that we believe in strongly. He's accountable, he's responsible, he's prepared, he's a unique player in a lot of different ways. Obviously, if you talk about the power and all that, and he certainly has power, but he just does a lot of things on the field that we think help the team win. He's an excellent baserunner. He worked his tail off to become an excellent defender at first base. He sees a ton of pitches. Even when the results aren't good, he sees a ton of pitches, so there are just a lot of things he does that contribute. So it's important on a number of levels for us to bring him back."
For Napoli, even a return to Texas, where he was extremely popular in his two years with the Rangers and would have paired with newly acquired Prince Fielder to create a formidable 3-4 punch, could not compete with Boston.
"Coming into spring training last year, getting to know the guys, the front office, coaches, everybody -- there's a strong bond there," Napoli said. "I made a lot of great friends, and I love the city of Boston. Just being there, the people there, it's just how I am, how I grew up, the type of people that are there. It was an easy decision for me."