Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
Nick Cafardo reports Boston is shopping the free agent market for a first baseman
The Boston Red Sox need a first baseman, now that Adrian Gonzalez has been dealt to the Dodgers, and James Loney was and remains James Loneyan in his play. There isn't a whole lot to choose from out there, and what is around might be too expensive. But general manager Ben Cherington wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't at least inquire, and according to Nick Cafardo, that's just what Boston is doing with Mike Napoli and Adam LaRoche.
Napoli is a backstop and a first baseman, and on a team that isn't the Red Sox, probably a designated hitter as well. His 2012 was a down season, but it wasn't a bad one: it's just easy to look that way at the follow-up to a campaign that looked like it belonged in the Jose Bautista Collection. For his career, Napoli owns a 126 OPS+, and while his batting average isn't generally high, he gets on base and has prodigious power.
Napoli hasn't played at Fenway Park very much in his career, logging time in just 18 games and 73 plate appearances. You can't ask for much more from what he's done with so little, though, as Napoli owns a career .306/.397/.710 line there. Now, expecting him to do that is setting yourself up for disappointment, but it's easy to envision the right-handed Napoli becoming fast friends with the Monster, and putting up an OPS greater than 900 because of it.
The question isn't what Napoli would do were he to join the Red Sox. The question is how much it will cost to get him to do so. Jim Bowden predicted Napoli to sign a three-year, $29 million deal, but unless general manager's league-wide are severely undervaluing what he can do, it's tough to see that being all it takes*. If no one truly believes him in as a backstop, though, and think that he's nowhere near as valuable as a first baseman, given the heightened expectations for offensive there, then it could be the case. And if that's true, then Boston should absolutely be in on him, as their park can nullify some of those concerns for half the schedule.
*Personally, if I thought Napoli would actually cost so little, you can be sure he would have been the choice for my Armchair GM piece. So, we'll see.
It worked out for the Rangers, who saw Napoli hit .275/.379/.552 in two seasons in their high-offense park. Fenway isn't Arlington, but it doesn't have to be an exact replica for Napoli to get similar benefits. If he can even come close to those numbers, he's more than capable at first base, and would help to solve some of the Red Sox' current issues with walks and longer plate appearances.
As for Laroche, he's nowhere near the hitter that Napoli is, except for on those random occasions like in 2012 where things come together for him. LaRoche has hit .255/.327/.462 over the last three seasons, and owns a 114 OPS+ for his career. That's not much better than average at first base, and while you could get a 2012-esque season, where LaRoche swatted 68 extra-base hits and slugged over .500, you're just as likely to pay $12 million per season for a string of average performances.
In addition, he's going to cost the Red Sox their second-round draft pick, were he to sign, as the Washington Nationals extended a qualifying offer to him. Throw in that Bowden projects LaRoche to make more money than Napoli on his upcoming contract, and you can see where he should be Plan B, rather than the first recipient of a phone call.