Mike Napoli Free-Agent Outlook: Napoli’s Strong Bond With Boston Should Continue in 2014

Mike NapoliMike Napoli and Boston proved to be a good match in 2013.

It was believed at one point last offseason that Napoli would ink a three-year, $39 million contract with the Red Sox, but that deal shrunk to a one-year, $5 million pact — with incentives bringing it up to $13 million — because of a hip condition detected in the slugger. Napoli didn’t show any signs of the hip condition, though, and he’ll now hit free agency on the heels of a very good season.

Napoli stayed healthy — with the exception of a brief bout with plantar fasciitis — and provided power in the middle of the Red Sox’ order. Given that such power is in demand, the Red Sox will likely have some competition when it comes to re-signing Napoli. In other words, Boston will likely need to dish out more than its $14.1 million qualifying offer.

Let’s dive deeper into Napoli’s free agency.

Personal

Age/DOB: 32 (Oct. 31, 1981)
Experience: 8 years
Acquired: via free agency (Jan. 22, 2013)
Height/weight: 6-foot, 220 pounds
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Resides: Pembroke Pines, Fla.

2013 season in review

G: 139
HR: 23
RBI: 92
AVG: .259 (129-for-498)
OBP/SLG/OPS: .360/.482/.842
SO/BB: 187/73
SB: 1
WAR: 4.1

So much for that hip problem.

In January, those in Boston outside of the medical community were introduced to avascular necrosis, a degenerative hip condition detected in Napoli that led to him signing a reduced deal. Napoli silenced any concerns about the ailment by putting together a productive and injury-free campaign.

Napoli, who earned a full $8 million in incentives by way of remaining on Boston’s roster for least 165 days, was the right-handed power complement to David Ortiz that the Red Sox were after last winter. He set career-highs in RBIs (92), hits (129), doubles (38), extra-base hits (63), runs (79) and walks (73). He also finished second on the Red Sox in homers (23), slugging percentage (.482) and OPS (.842).

Ortiz was sensational in 2013, but Napoli really helped the Red Sox overcome the DH’s absence to begin the season. Then, when Ortiz returned, Napoli slid down a spot in the order and continued to make an impact.

Napoli tallied six games with at least four RBIs, which tied Chris Davis and Alfonso Soriano for the MLB lead. It was the most such games in a single season for a Red Sox player since Mike Lowell in 2008.

Napoli played in the postseason for the sixth time in seven years in 2013 — joining Shane Victorino, Nick Swisher and CC Sabathia as the only players to accomplish the feat. He hit just .217 in October, but crushed two big home runs versus the Tigers in the ALCS.

Strengths

Napoli is the prototypical slugger. While he’ll strike out frequently, he’s capable of driving the ball with power to all fields, leading to plenty of run production over the course of a 162-game slate.

Napoli has averaged 15.95 at-bats per home run over the last six seasons, which ranks third in the American League behind Jose Bautista (13.44) and Miguel Cabrera (15.52). He has the sixth-best slugging percentage in the AL in that span (.513).

Napoli is a very patient hitter as well, which leads to plenty of walks and a good on-base percentage. Napoli saw a career-high and MLB-best 4.58 pitches per plate appearance this season. His career pitches per plate appearance ratio increased to 4.32 in 2013, which places him second only to Jayson Werth (4.42) among active players with at least 1,500 plate appearances. In fact, Napoli’s 4.58 mark of 2013 is the third-highest for any major league qualifier of the last 25 years — behind Brett Gardner (4.61 in 2010) and Rickey Henderson (4.60 in 1994).

The Red Sox also have to be pleased with Napoli’s glove work this season. He made a seamless transition to first base after years behind the plate, and it’s somewhat surprising that he wasn’t a finalist for a Gold Glove. According to Fangraphs, Napoli led major league first basemen with a 9.7 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and led AL first basemen with 10 defensive runs saved.

Napoli has also shown — both in Boston and in Texas — that he’s capable of producing on the big stage in October. That’s not something that should be overlooked.

Weaknesses

Napoli’s biggest flaw, obviously, is his tendency to swing and miss.

The slugger finished fourth in the majors and second in the AL with 187 strikeouts, setting a new Red Sox record in the process. The previous club record for strikeouts in a season was held by Mark Bellhorn (177 in 2004). Napoli struck out in 32.4 percent of his plate appearances in 2013, which is the worst mark among all qualified free agents.

Beyond that, the biggest concern surrounding Napoli is his health. He made it through 2013 just fine, but there is still that lingering hip issue, in addition to the wear and tear of years behind the dish. It’s worth noting, however, that Napoli said toward the end of the season that it was the best he had ever felt that deep into the year.

Market/alternatives

Napoli is the best first baseman available on the open market. Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, James Loney, Mike Morse and Corey Hart are among the other options available, and none compare to Napoli.

As a result, Napoli will likely reject Boston’s $14.1 million qualifying offer and garner some interest on the open market. The draft pick compensation attached to him by way of the qualifying offer could potentially steer some teams away, but the Red Sox will probably need to offer a multiyear deal to keep their first baseman around.

The Red Sox would be wise to make it happen, too. While the organization is deep, first base is one area in which the Red Sox lack depth on the farm. If the Red Sox don’t re-sign Napoli, they’ll need to pursue another free-agent option.

In Napoli’s words

“I want to be here. I love this place. They’ve treated me so good here. The way they’ve taken care of me, it’s unbelievable. When the time comes, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have some conversations. I hope to be back here next year.” (Oct. 30)

Off-the-cuff prediction

Napoli signs a two-year, $30 million contract (with a third-year option) with the Red Sox.

Simply put, Napoli and Boston is just a perfect match at this point. It’s hard to imagine the two sides not continuing their relationship.

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

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