Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino Not Flashy Signings, But Solid Additions as Red Sox Retool on Fly


Mike Napoli, Shane VictorinoIn a lot of ways, Ben Cherington and the Red Sox are in an unenviable position.

After suffering through the kind of disastrous campaign that the Red Sox did in 2012, most teams would take that as a sign to blow up the roster and rebuild from the ground up. The Red Sox do not have this luxury.

The perception of reality is that the Red Sox, for whatever reason — whether it be the Boston media or the team’s high cash flow — simply aren’t allowed to go through any process which precludes the team from seriously competing, even for one year. So while other teams have the occasional option to go with a full-on youth movement and sacrifice a season or two in the quest for longer term success, that is not a strategy you’ll soon see employed at Fenway.

Then it goes without saying that this ultra competitive attitude heavily affects how the Boston Red Sox treat an offseason such as this one. As we already said, many teams would start over after losing 93 games, but the Red Sox are retooling on the fly, building around their existing core rather than breaking it up — at least breaking it up any more than shipping out Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

So, all this being said, if the Red Sox hope to compete in 2013, the moves they’ve made so far to complement that core are savvy ones insofar as Boston adds good players who can help them now, but without bogging themselves down with burdensome long-term deals.

Specifically, we’re talking about the twin three-year, $39 million contracts granted to Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino.

The general consensus on these agreements seems split. Everyone seems to agree that Boston overpaid — on a per-year basis — for both players, probably to get them to agree to sign for fewer years. But Napoli seems to be the more popular signing thus far, with many skeptical of Victorino and the deal he just got.

However, both of these deals make much sense — for completely different reasons.

Bringing in Napoli nets the Red Sox a player who perfectly fits their philosophy — a guy with power who also gets on base at a great clip. Beyond that, he’s absolutely killed the ball at Fenway Park throughout his career, owning a .710 slugging percentage in 73 plate appearances, with a swing that looks tailor-made to pepper the Green Monster.

Victorino, on the other hand, isn’t the slugging outfielder many had hoped for, but he retains a lot of value — especially in terms of the Red Sox’ needs going forward. Beyond his ability to impact the game with his legs, glove and bat, Victorino flexibility was likely a huge factor in the Sox’ interest. With Jacoby Ellsbury‘s future up in the air beyond this coming season, the Red Sox may well need a center fielder, and Victorino’s great there defensively. Heck, with the trade rumors swirling and history of injury, the Sox may well need a center fielder sooner than 2014.

But does a declining bat, good glove and speed warrant $13 million a year? The answer is that no, on face value the Red Sox will be drastically overpaying Victorino, but that’s all other factors being equal, and those factors clearly are not equal in this case.

In short, the Red Sox identified Victorino as a guy they felt met their needs, and after that point they have the luxury to overpay for the Hawaiian. Basically, the team’s priorities have shifted.

Prior, the team was willing to overpay for high-price talent, and taking what they could get for fair value from the rest of the free-agent market. Now, because of the team’s newfound “discipline,” eschewing overpaying for those top-tier contracts allows them to overpay in areas where it won’t hamstring their budget.

To put it in simple terms: Not overpaying for one Crawford or Gonzalez allows them to overpay for multiple other players and fill several holes with that same money.

When the dust settles, it will be interesting to see where Victorino and Napoli slot in defensively and in the lineup. Chances are the Red Sox aren’t done just yet this offseason, but hoping for a Josh Hamilton may be a long wait.

However, by creating financial flexibility back in August has allowed to team to fluidly address its needs — and the team is continuing to do so in a way that won’t hamstring it further.

Victorino and Napoli may not be the splashy moves Red Sox Nation is accustomed to, but ultimately they’re more prudent moves than the old status quo.

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