Adam LaRoche’s Return to Nationals Puts More Pressure on Red Sox to Complete Mike Napoli Deal

Adam LaRoche, Mike NapoliIt’s unclear whether the Red Sox ever seriously considered Adam LaRoche to be a Plan B, but his contract with the Nationals makes completing a deal with Mike Napoli that much more important for Boston.

LaRoche agreed to a two-year contract with Washington on Tuesday, further slimming down an already slim first-base market. The Sox were wise to steer clear of going after the 33-year-old, but the LaRoche deal isn’t without some repercussions.

LaRoche’s new, two-year pact reportedly is worth $24 million in guaranteed money, which seems reasonable for a player coming off a season in which he hit 33 home runs, finished sixth in MVP voting, won a Silver Slugger award and earned Gold Glove honors. However, because the Nationals made LaRoche a qualifying offer earlier in the offseason (which he rejected), other teams would have had to surrender a draft pick to the Nats as compensation if they elected to sign the first baseman.

That draft pick requirement is what seems to have been a turn-off for most, including the Red Sox, who would have parted ways with a second-round pick had they signed LaRoche. Signing LaRoche also would have cost Boston — or any other team, for that matter — the money assigned to the pick in its draft pool, further complicating matters.

Sure, LaRoche is a fine player, and one who deserves to cash in on his breakout season during a walk year. But when you couple the compensation factor with the financial commitment required to obtain his services, it was just too much of a gamble for teams outside the nation’s capital.

That’s why Napoli — who reportedly agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with the Red Sox earlier this offseason before a preexisting hip issue raised a red flag during his physical — has always been the better option. The Red Sox have stressed the importance of getting back to focusing on player development, so giving up a second-round pick — by virtue of having one of the 10 worst records in baseball last season — was hardly an ideal situation for what could ultimately be a boom-or-bust, short-term fix. At least with Napoli, no draft compensation is required, as the Rangers elected to not make him a qualifying offer.

All has been pretty quiet on the Napoli front since reports regarding the contract holdup surfaced. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has been mum on the topic, and the overriding presumption is that the Sox are still focused on landing Napoli, even if they’d now like to do so under new terms. But while The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham reported on Monday that the Sox are “hopeful” a deal will get done with Napoli, LaRoche’s signing makes life a little bit trickier for the Boston front office.

Abraham reports that it’s believed Napoli hasn’t spoken to other teams since initially coming to terms on a deal with the Red Sox. Still, with LaRoche off the board, it wouldn’t be shocking if other teams at least picked up the phone to check in on Napoli’s status. That might not play much of a role in what ends up happening in this situation, but the simple fact is that the Red Sox lost a bit of leverage in their quest to sign Napoli under more team-friendly terms.

As mentioned, it’s unclear if the Red Sox were ever serious players for LaRoche, but there were at least reports floating around that Boston had contacted the first baseman. While this is pure speculation, it’s reasonable to think that the Red Sox may have been making a concerted effort to apply some heat on Napoli’s camp during the negotiating process. And if that’s the case, they no longer have such a luxury with LaRoche returning to Washington.

Now, there really isn’t a comparable first baseman that the Red Sox can turn to while also trying to land Napoli. Lance Berkman signed with the Rangers, and the list of available names is limited to the Carlos Lees, Aubrey Huffs and Casey Kotchmans of the world — hardly an exciting group.

At the end of the day, Napoli could end up being the Red Sox’ starting first baseman on Opening Day. It appears the Sox have wanted that all along, and it makes too much sense. But with LaRoche returning to Washington, and the crop of available first basemen looking less and less appetizing by the day, it has become even more essential for Cherington to make the Napoli wish a reality.

Mike Napoli photo (right) via Facebook/Mike Napoli

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