The Boston Red Sox made the first big splash of the Winter Meetings by signing free agent slugger Mike Napoli to a three-year deal worth $39M. This signing fills the Red Sox’s need at first base and would allow them to make trades and maximize Napoli’s value if they give him time behind the plate.
Napoli brings even more power to the Red Sox. His .257 ISO since 2008 ranks 6th in all of baseball since 2008, his first of five consecutive 20+ homerun seasons, behind only Giancarlo Stanton, Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Russell Branyan, and Ryan Howard. If you make the requirement over that time a minimum of 2000 plate appearances then Napoli ranks fourth in ISO.
Napoli also brings a patient eye with back-to-back seasons of a 13.4% walk rate, 11th best during that time frame, and a career rate of 11.9%. His wRC+, or overall offensive performance adjusted for ballpark, for his career is 128, and his wOBA is .371. This is, without a doubt, an offensive upgrade over what Adrian Gonzalez and James Loney provided in 2012 but his defense is far worse than those two defensive stalwarts.
Napoli has managed just over 1000 innings at first base in his career and has a -2.6 UZR. This is not enough to overly hurt the team but it is a major downgrade from what Boston has received on the defensive side of the ball at first base in recent years.
Behind the plate, Napoli owns a mere 24% caught stealing rate but his bat is so far above-average for the position that giving him 40 or so starts back there would more than make up for the loss in defense, hence the reason he gains value if he is played behind the plate. Management would be wise to give him some starts there, especially against teams like the Orioles and Tigers who were the only teams not to steal at least 60 bases last season.
This deal, along with the signing of catcher David Ross, also allows the Red Sox to explore trading Jarrod Saltalamacchia to improve other areas of the roster while his stock and demand for catching help is very high. And with Ryan Lavarnway on the roster the team will have plenty of options behind the plate.
Also, for fun’s sake, taking Napoli’s bat away from the opposition was a good idea for Boston since Napoli owns a career .288/.379/.696 line with 16 homeruns in 38 games in his career against the Red Sox.
The deal takes Napoli through his age 31-33 seasons so the Red Sox will be getting some solid production years out of him, assuming he can stay healthy. And, although he struck out a career high 30% of the time in 2012 –his career rate was 24.5% prior to 2012– his swinging-strike rate was right at his career mark and his O-Swing rate was almost half a percent better than his career mark. What that means is that I would not expect Napoli to reach that 30% strikeout mark again this coming year or possibly any year during this contract.
I feel like I am in the minority here but I like this deal for the Red Sox and believe that if Napoli gets time behind the plate he could end up being a slight bargain for the Red Sox.