The Boston Red Sox on Monday agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with free-agent first baseman/catcher Mike Napoli, pending a physical, a baseball source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told ESPNDallas.com.
Why do the Red Sox like Mike Napoli? His career numbers at Fenway Park, where he is 19-for-62 with 7 homers and 4 doubles in 74 plate appearances, seem to tell the story.
Napoli, who visited Boston late last month, is expected to play primarily at first base for the Red Sox.
He was identified early on as a logical target to fill the Red Sox's need at first and gives the club another option behind the plate, if general manager Ben Cherington elects to shop Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the winter meetings.
Napoli has never played more than 70 games at first base, which he did in 2010, when the Angels' Kendrys Morales fractured his leg in a freak accident and Napoli was pressed into duty as a replacement.
This past season, he caught 72 games for the Rangers, but the most he has caught in his career is 96 games (2009), and at age 31, he might be receptive to making a more permanent position switch to first base.
"I just want to play," Napoli recently told ESPNDallas.com. "I feel the most comfortable behind the plate because that's where most of my reps have been. Do I think I can be good at first base if I had reps and practiced it all the time? Yes. But it's not like I'm saying I have to be a catcher. I just want to be in the lineup and play. If it helps at catcher, I'll catch, or at first base, I'll play there. But I like catching. I look at myself as catcher."
The Rangers also met with Napoli and had interest in bringing him back, but they did not make a qualifying offer of $13.3 million, which means Boston could sign him without forfeiting a draft choice.
Napoli would give the Red Sox a needed right-handed power bat, especially if the club is unable to retain outfielder Cody Ross, which will be the case if Ross is able to persuade another team to sign him to the three-year deal he was unable to score last winter.
Napoli's numbers across the board in 2012 showed a significant drop-off from 2011, when he relocated to Arlington's hitter-friendly ballpark after five seasons in Anaheim and enjoyed a career year, batting .320 with 30 home runs, 75 RBIs and 72 runs. His average in 2012 was .227, with 24 home runs, 56 RBIs and 53 runs, and while Napoli's batting average on balls in play (.273) suggested his luck took a dive from 2011 (when his BABIP was .344), there is ample evidence to suggest his breakout season was an anomaly.
"Obviously, I didn't have the year I wanted to," Napoli told ESPNDallas.com. "But I feel like I'm a better average hitter than that. My career numbers show that. I had a rough year average-wise and hitting with runners in scoring position (.245), and I struck out more than past years. It was a weird year for me, mentally and physically. I battled injuries all year."
Napoli has shown (in a relatively small sample size) that Fenway Park is to his liking, posting