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Across the Diamond: Hot Stove League Edition #8 – Napoli, LaRoche and Leftovers

Hot Stove

LaRoche’s destination could be tied to Napoli’s contract situation Boston

Editor’s Note: Across the Diamond: Hot Stove League Edition is a new weekly column that appears on Baseball News Source every Friday and details free agent and trade talk at every position.

Cody Ross signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks,  A.J. Pierzynski joining the Texas Rangers, and Cleveland Indians reaching an agreement with free-agent Nick Swisher over the last week are moves that have further diminished the lean pool of free agents who can fill starting roles.

Interestingly, both Arizona and Texas expect to be active in the trade market as spring training draws nearer.

The addition of Ross in Arizona was a surprise considering that the Diamondbacks have a surplus of outfielders.

Before bringing Ross aboard, the club already had Jason Kubel, Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra and promising prospects A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton.

The Diamondbacks also signed versatile veteran Eric Hinske, a left-handed hitter who provides depth at the corner infield and outfield spots.

Chances are, Upton, Kubel or Parra will be dealt.

Since last July’s trade deadline, speculation has grown about a potential deal between Arizona and Texas involving Upton and shortstop Elvis Andrus.

That remains a possibility, though both teams publicly appear reluctant.

The Rangers have uber prospect Jurickson Profar who can replace Andrus, and the Diamondbacks have an array of candidates to occupy Upton’s spot in right field.

On paper, it might seem that Arizona no longer needs Andrus.

Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has traded for Cliff Pennington and Didi Gregorious this offseason, but Andrus would be an upgrade at shortstop.

Texas would benefit from Upton’s offense after losing Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli to free agency.

LaRoche and Napoli

Napoli remained in the Hot Stove League news column this week because of his lingering negotiations with the Boston Red Sox.

The catcher/first baseman agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with Boston during the winter meetings, but Red Sox officials have yet to finalize the deal after concerns with results from Napoli’s physical.

According to multiple media reports, the Red Sox would like a shorter term deal – perhaps two years with a vesting option for a third year – to provide protection in the event Napoli suffers a hip or leg injury.

Earlier this week, several media outlets wrote that the Red Sox were talking to free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche and that at least one other team is interested in Napoli.

LaRoche, who is 33, has a two-year offer to return to the Washington Nationals, but he is said to prefer a three-year deal.

Since LaRoche received and declined a qualifying offer from the Nationals, the Red Sox would have to surrender a draft pick (their second rounder since the club’s first rounder is protected next summer) if they ink him.

Napoli is 31, and though he is below average defensively at first base, he is two years younger than LaRoche, provides a right-handed power bat which would likely thrive at Fenway Park and he would not cost the Red Sox their second round selection.

Likely, Boston will finalize the deal with Napoli or sign LaRoche since the other free agent options at first base are not appealing.

Lance Berkman is a possibility, and if the Red Sox sign Napoli, they still could bring in Berkman since he is a left-handed hitter and can play first base and left field, so he could platoon at times with Jonny Gomes and Napoli.

More Pirates Trades?

Aside from Berkman, the remaining names include Carlos Lee, Aubrey Huff, Casey Kotchman and Lyle Overbay.

There was thought that the Red Sox would acquire first baseman/right fielder Garrett Jones from Pittsburgh in the deal that yielded closer Joel Hanrahan and middle infield prospect Brock Holt for outfielder/first baseman Jerry Sands, right-handed reliever Mark Melancon, infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr. and pitching prospect Stolmy Pimentel.

Pittsburgh still could deal Jones as it attempts to trim payroll.

The Pirates already have Sands and Gaby Sanchez who can play first base and Travis Snider and Sands who can fill the right field role.

Jones will not be eligible for free agency until 2016, but he is projected to receive a significant raise in arbitration from his $2,250,000 salary in 2012.

The 31-year-old Jones hit .274 with 27 home runs, 86 RBI and a .832 OPS for the Pirates in 2012.

Pittsburgh is seeking rotation depth and it could also use an upgrade at shortstop, which is currently manned by Clint Barmes.

Leftovers

With Boston’s signing of Stephen Drew made official, the pool of free agent shortstops is thin and includes Jason Bartlett, Alex Gonzalez, Ronny Cedeno and Cesar Izturis.

Most of the difference-making free agents have already found new destinations for 2013.

Right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, right-handed closer Rafael Soriano, LaRoche and outfielder Michael Bourn are the only remaining free agents who will cost their new team a draft pick next summer.

Second-tier free agents who can fill valuable roles and are still available include Berkman (if his surgically repaired knees are healthy); outfielder Scott Hairston (who is drawing interest from the New York Yankees); starting pitchers like Jair Jurrjens, Dallas Braden, Joe Saunders, Shaun Marcum, Brett Myers, Carl Pavano and Derek Lowe; and closers such as Brian Wilson, Matt Capps, Jose Valverde and Francisco Rodriguez.

When New Year’s Day passes and spring training is just six weeks away, expect the trade market to gain momentum since teams needing to fill spots in their lineup, rotation and bullpen have minimal appealing free agent targets.


Jeff Louderback is a professional writer, author, editor and publicist whose work about the Red Sox, the Red Sox farm system and general Major League and Minor League columns and features appear in print and online media outlets.