Don’t get it twisted. Mike Napoli‘s focus is on this season. But with the slugger’s full contract kicking in Thursday, he was able to reflect on a special year and look ahead to his future, which he hopes involves playing for the Red Sox.
Napoli spent his 165th day on the Red Sox’ active roster Thursday, meaning that he’ll receive the full $8 million in incentives for the one-year deal he signed last offseason. By staying healthy and producing, the 31-year-old might have also set himself up for the multi-year deal that eluded him over the winter because of concerns about a hip condition that he hasn’t showed any symptoms of since being diagnosed.
“It’s great,” Napoli told reporters before Thursday’s game at Tropicana Field. “It just shows I was able to stay on the field and be out there a lot and try to help us win. It’s a good day, but I’ve got to let this day go and get back on the field and try to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Napoli, who has struck out 176 times this year, is on the verge of breaking Mark Bellhorn‘s single-season Red Sox record of 177 strikeouts, set back in 2004. But despite the frequent swings and misses, Napoli has also been a powerful — albeit streaky — threat in the middle of the Red Sox’ lineup. He’s hitting .258 with 21 home runs and 87 RBIs in 129 games.
It remains to been whether or not the Red Sox will try to bring Napoli back in 2013, but it’s a definite possibility given the lack of first-base options in the Boston organization. Napoli is certainly open to the idea, too.
“I’d love to stay here,” Napoli said. “I love this group of guys. A lot of guys are coming back [next season]. This is a special group. You bring back guys like this, they’re going to be able to win for a couple of years.”
It looked initially like the Red Sox were going to sign Napoli to a three-year contract last offseason, but he eventually signed a one-year incentive-laden deal after his hip condition was discovered. Rather than let the situation get to him, Napoli decided that the best course of action was to forget about it and play baseball.
“I was in kind of a tough situation, too, because what if I got hit in the hand — nothing to do with my hip? That was kind of the uncomfortable feeling at times. But I feel like if you play hard, go the way you’re supposed to and not worry about, ‘I can’t do this; I can’t do that,’ if you just play the game hard then things will work out,” Napoli said. “With everything that happened this offseason, it was like, whatever. I’m just going to go out there and play, not really worry about it and just play. It’s what I’ve done all year.”
Napoli’s approach has been a successful one thus far. He understands that there’s still plenty of work to be done, though. So while he hopes to continue his career in Boston after this season, he’s trying to make sure that it comes on the heels of a World Series title.
“They know me better [after a season],” Napoli said. “I’ve been here for a whole year. They know how I work. When that time comes, we’ll probably try to pursue something. But right now, we’re just worrying about winning and taking care of this year.”
Well, a World Series ring would be a nice accessory to wear to the next contract signing.