Lyle Overbay Signing Shouldn’t Go Unnoticed, As Veteran Adds Much-Needed Depth to Red Sox Bench

Lyle OverbayThe Red Sox on Thursday added a small piece whose importance could grow exponentially by the time the dog days of summer roll around.

The Sox inked veteran first baseman Lyle Overbay to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to Boston’s major league spring training. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reports that the deal is worth $1.25 million and includes $250,000 in performance bonuses. Overbay could opt out of the deal if he isn’t on the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster, but given Boston’s current first base situation, there’s a good chance manager John Farrell will want to keep the 36-year-old around to serve as Mike Napoli‘s backup.

It seems like a minor role on the surface, but serving as Boston’s backup first baseman could wind up being a huge responsibility. Napoli says he’s healthy, his agent says he’s healthy and his teammates say he’s healthy. Basically, all indications are that he’s healthy. Yet despite the overabundance of optimism surrounding the recently signed slugger, the Red Sox can’t afford to ignore the elephant in the room — Napoli’s hip condition — and signing Overbay indicates that general manager Ben Cherington considers it important to have fallback options.

The worst case scenario would be Napoli eventually feeling some ill effects of the hip condition and thus missing some time. That would obviously thrust Napoli’s primary backup into a much larger role, and Overbay at least gives the Red Sox someone who has been an everyday big leaguer — and, at times, an effective one — in the past.

Let’s face it, though. Napoli could stay healthy all year or the Red Sox could have last year’s Opening Day first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, plugged into the lineup, and it wouldn’t take away from the fact that the Sox needed to add some depth at the position. Mauro Gomez and Mark Hamilton are the only organizational options beyond Napoli who figure to get a glance in regards to 2013. While potentially viable options, they have a combined 84 games and 177 major league plate appearances among them. Overbay, on the other hand, has 12 years of big league experience split between five organizations.

There’s no telling what kind of spring training any of these guys will have. Gomez has shown in the minors that he has plenty of  pop. Hamilton has as well, and he has the added allure of being a left-handed hitter who is also capable of playing in the outfield if Farrell so chooses. One has to think that Gomez or Hamilton will have to perform at a high level throughout spring training in order to leapfrog Overbay on the depth chart, though.

Overbay is by no means the player he once was. In 2006, he hit .312, smacked 22 home runs and drove in 92 runs as a member of the Blue Jays. He reached the 20-home run plateau again in 2010, but it came with a .243 average and just 67 RBIs. Ever since, his statistical output has been even less impressive. But regardless of his 2011 or 2012 numbers, Overbay still gives the Red Sox a decent glove and a lefty bench option, a combination that will be valuable regardless of whether or not Napoli holds up for the entire season. Napoli could stay healthy, but he’s inherently going to need some days off here and there in order to keep fresh for September, and perhaps beyond.

It’s safe to say Overbay has evolved into a respectable bench player, and his willingness to accept a minor league deal demonstrates he’s accepted that fact. He won’t enter 2013 as the Red Sox’ most notable free-agent signing, but from the standpoint of strengthening the team’s bench, it’s an acquisition that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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