Have you ever saved up for something for a really long time, only to smash open the piggy bank, run out the door and find out that what you wanted isn’t there anymore?
That’s sort of where the Red Sox are this free agent season, where they’ve cleared a ton of cap space but don’t have much of a market to go spending in. They want to make wise choices, and they want to contend now while building for the future. And, quite frankly, Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton and a bunch of guys you’ve only heard of if you’re a real baseball enthusiast aren’t going to be able to do that.
The Red Sox need to get what Adrian Gonzalez was supposed to be, but an Adam LaRoche is not going to provide power and presence from first base. The Red Sox need another trade that flips this and that piece for Josh Beckett and lightning-in-a-bottle Mike Lowell, but the helpful Marlins sent their five-trading-card set of top-tier players to Toronto.
The Red Sox have the money and ability to spend but just need the right players to spend it on. That’s why David Ross and Jonny Gomes — nice fill-in guys who are supposed to make a rosier clubhouse — are as far as the club has gone so far.
But there is one player who, while maybe not the crown of this free agent class, could fit pretty nicely with Boston and help the Red Sox accomplish at least some of their offseason objectives.
That player is Mike Napoli, whose name Red Sox fans know well. As far back as August, when the Red Sox started dismantling their roster and looking ahead to the next rendition of Fenway greatness, Napoli’s name fell into the buzz. A 31-year-old catcher and first baseman who was incredible for the Rangers in 2011, Napoli has a lot of what the Red Sox are looking for.
Napoli can hit American League pitching (and pretty well — in 2011, he was .320/.414/.631 with 30 home runs). He can catch American League pitchers (that’s a big thing, especially considering the Red Sox’ woes last season). He’s young enough to provide a few solid years, yet veteran enough to fill in where needed and mold younger players. And, now that the Sox are stacked at catcher, he’s willing to play first base and won’t need to eat up designated hitter at-bats, which is vital for this team.
It’s no wonder that Napoli is on top of many people’s wish lists for the Red Sox, even if he isn’t the kind of marquee player who could command the blockbuster deal that would invigorate the club and its fan base. Not even his splits from last year, when he was limited to 108 games — .227/.343/.469 (but with 24 home runs) — will dissuade supporters.
The reason why is because Napoli is the best of the options out there, and somewhat of a fit for the Sox. And coming off a 93-win season where the Red Sox are the kid that just arrived at the candy shop with a week’s allowance to find everything sold out, that’s enough. Get the guy.
If Napoli isn’t brought in, who do the Red Sox conscionably get? LaRoche has put up decent numbers but isn’t a solution beyond a couple of years where Boston will hope he does it again. Lance Berkman is a nice idea, and also an injury waiting to happen. Even if he could do some work at first base, he would need days off — and then that would bring into question whether he and David Ortiz would be switching off at DH, to get Berkman’s bat going regularly (not happening). Nick Swisher is a grand idea if Red Sox fans want another chipper guy to get melted in the Boston market, toasted by New York fans and sucked dry of his enthusiasm when his numbers fail and he can’t shoulder the criticism.
Plus, Napoli has the bonus material of being a catcher by trade. While the Red Sox don’t need help at that position, another .157 year from Ryan Lavarnway or .222 season from Jarrod Saltalamacchia could make having Napoli around look mighty good.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has plenty of choices via trade or free agency, and the time to make the moves he wants, but when it comes to first base, there are good reasons why Napoli’s name keeps coming up. Now, with the slugger reportedly in Boston for a look around, the stakes are raised.
The Red Sox have been saving, and the candy shop isn’t completely empty. Maybe it’s time to go for it.