It was all set, at least Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington thought so.
Napoli’s official arrival in Boston hit a snag, though, when he underwent a physical. The Red Sox saw something they didn’t like - media reports have indicated they might have concern over the right-handed slugger’s hip – and now it is uncertain that the contract will be finalized.
On Monday, citing a Tweet from SI.com’s Will Carroll, the Dallas Morning News wrote that the Red Sox and Napoli have re-opened negotiations.
According to Carroll, the Red Sox want “less years” meaning either two years or a one-year deal at the same annual salary (which is $13 million).
To date, there is only speculation about what alarmed the Red Sox about Napoli’s physical.
The 31-year-old first baseman/catcher/DH was slowed by a quad injury in 2012, when he belted 24 home runs and produced a .812 OPS but batted just .227 in 417 plate appearances for the Texas Rangers.
Over 432 plate appearances in 2011, he clubbed 30 home runs with a .631 slugging percentage and a 1.046 OPS.
Even if the Red Sox and Napoli agree to terms, the team will likely still add a left-handed hitter who can play first base and another position (like third base and/or the outfield). Boston does not have a left-handed hitting first base prospect in the high levels of its farm system, so it will probably have to find someone who fits that description via trade.
LaRoche has a two-year offer to return to the Washington Nationals, but it appears he is searching for a three-year contract.
The 33-year-old LaRoche suffered a torn labrum in 2011, but last season he ripped 33 home runs with 100 RBI and a .853 OPS. Unlike Napoli, who is below average on defense behind the plate and at first base, LaRoche won a Gold Glove in 2012.
As for Swisher, the 32-year-old first baseman/outfielder visited with the Cleveland Indians today and is still exploring opportunities. Since LaRoche and Swisher both received and declined qualifying offers from their 2012 teams, the Red Sox would have to surrender their second round pick in next summer’s draft if they sign either player.
So far this offseason, Cherington has refused to sacrifice that draft choice. Boston also has the No. 7 pick in the first round, a selection that is protected.
With or without Napoli, the Red Sox roster will be right-handed heavy, which is why the club will likely acquire a left-handed bat through free agency or trade.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have reportedly been approached by two American League teams about right fielder Andre Ethier. It would not be a surprise to learn that the Red Sox are one of those teams.
Though the Dodgers’ outfield seems set with Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Ethier, rumors have circulated that they are open to trading the latter, who is a 30-year-old left-handed hitter signed through 2017 with a vesting option and a buyout for 2018.
If the Dodgers could sign Ellsbury to a long-term deal – like the Blue Jays were able to do for R.A. Dickey in their recent trade – Boston and LA could implement another blockbuster transaction, though it would not rival last summer’s attention grabber.