Red Sox Replace James Loney with Mike Napoli

Early on during the winter meetings, we’ve seen the Rays agree to terms with James Loney, and the Padres agree to terms with Jason Marquis. Now we’ve seen the Red Sox agree to terms with an actual good player, signing Mike Napoli for three years and $39 million. In theory, this’ll cause more dominoes to fall. In reality, more dominoes will fall regardless.

From this we can learn a little something about reported rumors and reported demands. Napoli was said on several occasions to be holding out for a four-year contract. He didn’t get it. Napoli was said on some occasions to be insistent on catching. With the Red Sox, he’ll predominantly be a first baseman. Either Napoli isn’t getting exactly what he wanted, or what he wanted wasn’t accurately conveyed.

Napoli plugs what was a fairly gaping organizational hole. For a long time the Red Sox had Adrian Gonzalez, and when you have Adrian Gonzalez, it’s less of a priority to accumulate depth at first base. Then the Red Sox wound up with one fewer Adrian Gonzalez and one additional James Loney. Prior to Napoli’s signing, the top first baseman on Boston’s organizational depth chart was Jerry Sands. Behind Sands would’ve been Mauro Gomez. Napoli will probably catch every so often, but Boston has enough catchers, and now Boston has one first baseman.

In a way, this felt inevitable. Napoli visited with the Red Sox, Mariners, and Rangers. The Red Sox had the money and the need. The Mariners had both, but would’ve presumably needed to out-bid the Red Sox. The Rangers didn’t think enough of Napoli to extend to him a $13.3 million qualifying offer, which certainly looks like a worse decision now. Even if Napoli badly wanted four years, he wasn’t going to get it, and the Red Sox gave him a satisfactory average annual value. This looked like the right fit, and now this is the actual fit.

One thing this does is make Jarrod Saltalamacchia even more available in trade talks. The Red Sox now have Napoli, Saltalamacchia, David Ross, and Ryan Lavarnway, which makes for entirely too much depth at the catcher position. Saltalamacchia’s the most expendable, and he’s the most likely to end up somewhere else.

A second thing this does is install Mike Napoli at first base for a while. Napoli is said to be coming off a down season at the plate, but incidentally:

Mike Napoli, 2012: 114 wRC+
Adrian Gonzalez, 2012: 115 wRC+

Napoli’s 2012 was poor relative to his 2011, but Napoli’s 2011 was uncharacteristically amazing, and it’s that season that stands out as the anomaly. The strikeout rate didn’t make sense. Napoli’s going to walk, Napoli’s going to go deep, and Napoli’s going to whiff. As he has been, he will presumably continue to be.

Napoli, clearly, is a non-elite bat. He doesn’t make a positive contribution running the bases, and he’s not about to win a Gold Glove at first base. He’s made valuable by his power, and the best way to describe his contract with the Red Sox is “fair”. The Red Sox aren’t getting him at a bargain, and the Red Sox also aren’t getting Napoli as a potential albatross, which was never going to happen given the limited number of suitors. Three years and $39 million seems like the right price for a good hitter on the wrong side of 30. It was probably crucial for the Red Sox to get this done now so that they can turn their attention to other parts of the roster in need.

Something that’s been noted is that Napoli has hit the crap out of the ball in Fenway Park, to the tune of a 1.107 career OPS. That’s undeniably true, over a sample of 73 plate appearances. Over a sample of 70 plate appearances, Napoli has generated a .657 OPS in US Cellular. You can see where this is going. Napoli is by no means a bad fit for Fenway, but he isn’t an unusually good fit, and he’s coming from Texas, which is just as righty-friendly. As it happens, Napoli has seven career homers in Boston — one to left, two to left-center, one to center, two to right-center, and one to right. He’ll hit his home runs, and he’ll spread them around.

At 31, Mike Napoli probably isn’t getting better. He’s never before exceeded 510 plate appearances, and his value is tied up almost entirely in his bat. He has those classic old-player skills that hint at a possible coming decline phase. The Red Sox didn’t just land the bargain of the winter. What they did land is a first baseman who isn’t Jerry Sands or James Loney. The Red Sox got better in an affordable way, and now the rest of the offseason is that much more clear.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


44 Responses to “Red Sox Replace James Loney with Mike Napoli”

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  1. 0294 says:

    This is interesting: Swisher (4/$14-$15), Napoli (3/$13), and Ross (2/$8) would provide a lot of flexibility and power through the use of platooning.

    Home v. LHP:
    C: Napoli (.273/.381/.529)
    1B: Swisher (.270/.402/.441)
    LF: Gomes (.284/.312/.512)
    RF: Ross (.284/.353/.575)
    Home v RHP:
    C: Ross (.234/.323/.448)
    1B: Napoli (.253/.347/.498)
    LF: Ross (.253/.312/.415)
    RF: Swisher (.250/.342/.478)
    Away v. LHP:
    C: Napoli (.273/.381/.529)
    1B: Swisher (.270/.402/.441)
    LF: Gomes (.284/.312/.512)
    RF: Ross (.284/.353/.575)
    Away v. RHP:
    C: Ross (.234/.323/.448)
    1B: Napoli (.273/.381/.529)
    LF: Nava (.262/.370/.401)
    RF: Swisher (.270/.402/.441)

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  2. ABW says:

    Is it just me, or has the off-season so far been remarkably free of GMs overpaying ridiculously and generally wasting money? Instead they keep making reasonable deals for sane lengths of time at roughly market value. Boooo-ring.

    Somebody give a reliever $12 million a year so we can make fun of them.

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  3. Lee Schuchart says:

    If we combined the last three seasons, Loney is #2 in the AL in UZR and #3 in the AL in DRS. Napoli will lag quite a ways behind in defense. Hopefully, for Boston’s sake, Napoli’s bat makes up the 11 million dollar difference.

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    • B N says:

      I’d say he’s likely to make up most of it, at the least. Loney put up negative WAR last year, 2.4 the year prior, and 1.4 the year before that. Over the same span, Napoli put up 2, 5.6, and 2.8 WAR.

      If we weigh the more recent seasons more, Napoli might average1.5 more WAR each season. Is that worth $11m? Tough to say. If you’re the Red Sox who has shed a ton of salary commitments? The Rays made a great deal based on their needs. The Red Sox made a good deal based on theirs.

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      • Tom says:

        This was my thought.as well. DH is blocked for the first 2 years so he’s primarily a 1st baseman/backup catcher.

        His defense at 1st (limited data, ~1000 innings) is below average, his defense at C is bad, so will his bat be worth 13mil a year?

        It could be, but it seems risky – 1st base is usyally pretty easy to fill. A backup catcher with power is not easy to find but does that make it worth it.

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      • Tom says:

        Oops – meant to be a reply to a comment above.

        My apologies.

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  4. BillWallace says:

    Projecting Napoli for 2.8 war in 2013, I have him as being worth 3/40. So a solid contract for the sox.

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  5. Lerner says:

    I don’t understand this signing. The Red Sox aren’t going to contend this year. Winning 85 games and missing the playoffs hurts them more this year than winning 72 and getting a nicer position in the draft.

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    • Lerner says:

      Oops, hurts them more in the future.

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    • ODawg says:

      The marginal value of 13 2013 Major League wins surely outweighs the marginal value of 10ish 2014 MLB draft spots.

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      • Baltar says:

        Did somebody resurrect Babe Ruth and send him to Boston? If not, where are those 13 wins coming from.

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      • Cidron says:

        Baltar, some of those 13 wins will come in the form of injured players coming back for 2013.. They were on their #10-13 OF’s for a while there (or so it seemed) due to injuries.

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    • Stever says:

      It seems to me that it’s not about the draft picks, it’s about not trading any of the top 4 prospects listed by BA. ie, Bogaerts, Bradley, Barnes and Webster. Those 4, along with De La Rosa and Brentz, are going to provide an influx of talent in 2013 or early 2014 that is going to propel the team back into a force in the division. I cringe at the thought of trading any of these players. Miami can keep Stanton.

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    • glenstein says:

      The Red Sox most definitely DO intend on contending in 2013. And they actually already have a pretty good team right now, to which they will had a few pieces by offseason’s end.

      At this point the Sox winning 72 or 85 or 95 games is not out of the question.

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      • JeffMathisCera says:

        95 games is not out of the question, but in a division with the Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Orioles it seems like a <1% chance. Not finishing in the cellar should be their goal right now.

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      • Jonathan says:

        @glenstein,

        All four teams in the East have major question marks, just like the Red Sox. A few smart moves, particularly on the pitching front, put them right in the thick of things. Signing Sanchez or trading for Dickey would put the Sox ahead of the O’s or Jays on paper at the least and with the volume of players coming off of injuries for the Yankees and the offensive questions on the Rays, the AL East is more wide open than it’s been in something like two decades.

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    • B N says:

      I disagree, this signing makes a lot of sense. They get a guy to fill first base for 3 years, giving them time to look for an elite bat at the position. Most of the elite bats at 1B are locked up for a while, in case you hadn’t noticed: Pujols, Fielder, Gonzalez, M. Cabrera (who should be a 1B), Votto, and Howard are locked up long term. Other top 1B are getting old and in decline (Konerko, Tex, Howard again).

      How many years can you punt 1B? Plus, the Red Sox are not going to lose money with these kind of payroll decisions. Quite the contrary, leaving a hole at 1B for a year might actually take some fans out of the stands: it comes off as cheap. While I certainly wouldn’t advocate the Red Sox blowing the bank on a guy like Hamilton, picking up some pieces to at least stay out of the cellar seems reasonable.

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    • Patrick G says:

      The Red Sox are not allowed to wave the white flag and say, “We’ve decided to suck for a few years to accumulate high draft picks. See you in 2016, fans!” The Sox are too valuable a machine to aim for the cellar — a few years of suck can turn a rabid fanbase sour fast (see the Orioles’ decline in attendance).

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    • chuckb says:

      Winning 72 games is never better than winning 85 games. That’s just silly.

      An 85 win team, with a little luck, is an 88-90 win team and is now in the playoffs.

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  6. Michael says:

    “For a long time the Red Sox had Adrian Gonzalez, and when you have Adrian Gonzalez, it’s less of a priority to accumulate depth at first base”? A little over one year doesn’t seem like very long, even in this transient time of trades of free agents. It definitely doesn’t seem long enough to severely impact their collection of first basemen throughout the organization…

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    • NS says:

      He was moved after the trade deadline and played a month with the Dodgers. Boston had him for two seasons and had him under contract for 5 more, never expecting to trade him until last summer. It would very obviously discourage them from focusing on 1B talent.

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      • Baltar says:

        The whole notion of “1B talent” seems odd to me. Actually feeling that you have to have minor leaguers who are destined to be good 1B prospects ignores the fact that you can fill your minor league 1B spots with replacement players and develop your best talents as C, 3B or COF and convert the defensive failures to 1B.

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  7. ODawg says:

    It’s kind of funny to look at his FanGraphs page and see “Bill James” projections…when we know Bill James may well have influenced this signing. Also surprised to see a (slightly) positive review of the deal here on FG. We know that Cameron won’t like it – he had this deal at $3M less as one of his worst in his offseason preview.

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  8. Bookbook says:

    I’m glad Cameron and Sullivan disagree sometimes. Red Sox are a cash machine. It might not be a good deal for the Padres

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  9. Patrick G says:

    I’m not sure what everyone’s antipathy to Jerry Sands is all about. He hasn’t been given much of a shot at the major league level, and he’s shown he can hit the crap out of left-handed pitching (at least, in the minors). I thought he’d make a good platoon partner with someone like Justin Morneau.

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  10. Jerry says:

    Napoli is the “bargain of the winter”? Not a bad signing, but I’d hardly call it this winter’s bargain signing.

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    • matt w says:

      I think that’s what Sullivan was saying — when he said “they didn’t just land the bargain of the winter,” “just” meant “right now,” not only. So instead of saying “they didn’t only land the bargain of the winter,” he’s saying the opposite of “they just landed the bargain of the winter.” If that’s at all clear.

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  11. Ben says:

    This deal has a lot to like. Reasonable per year salary for a PECOTA projected 3.9,3.7,3.4 WARP player over the next three years. Opens up Red Sox ability to trade a catcher and get something good, while acquiring a right-handed masher to pepper the green monster. Good job Red Sox, enough said.

    http://summerpastime.blogspot.com/2012/12/winter-meetings-day-1.html

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  12. drewcorb says:

    “The Rangers didn’t think enough of Napoli to extend to him a $13.3 million qualifying offer, which certainly looks like a worse decision now.”

    I don’t understand why this looks like a worse decision. They didn’t think he was worth $13M over one year, so I’m sure they didn’t think he’s worth $39M/3. The fact that he signed for that means they were never going offer enough to keep him.

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