Is Mike Napoli's Contract On Hold Due To His Physical?

Jeff Gross

The first baseman's deal should be official, but something might be amiss

The Red Sox agreed to terms with free agent Mike Napoli on the first day of the winter meetings, but it's now well over a week later, and the contract is not official yet. Boston tends to wait a long time -- as long as possible -- to make deals like this official, in case they have other roster moves they would like to make. But, given the timing involved -- Napoli's physical was scheduled for Monday -- there's reason to wonder if something is awry.

That isn't the same thing as saying that the contract isn't happening, and that Boston's plans are now busted. If something is indeed wrong in Napoli's physical, the most-likely outcome is that the two parties are reworking the language of the deal in order to better protect the Red Sox against whatever the physical ailment is.

Remember, there isn't any word on something being wrong, as both sides are maintaining radio silence. But Ken Rosenthal reports that the physical occurred on Monday, and the deal was scheduled to become official on Tuesday. Former general manager and current baseball analyst Jim Duquette reports that the Mariners didn't offer Napoli a contract because of concerns over his hip, and that only the Indians and Red Sox extended contracts. If you want to connect the dots, it's possible Boston doesn't like what they have seen on his hip, either. But, this is the Red Sox, so we're back to reworking the contract to compensate for this issue, rather than submitting a panic call to Adam LaRoche's agent asking what his client is up to these days.

Back before the 2007 season, the Red Sox agreed to terms with free agent outfielder J.D. Drew. The deal didn't become official for 52 days according to Gordon Edes, as the two sides inserted opt-outs for the Red Sox should Drew's pre-existing shoulder condition become an issue during his time in a Red Sox uniform. Before the 2010 campaign, John Lackey had a sixth year added to his contract, at the league minimum, because of a known elbow injury. While Boston lost his 2012 campaign, invoking this option will give them an inexpensive rotation piece to either pitch or trade in 2015, when the rotation very well might need another body in it. Never mind that he will count for just roughly $500,000 against the luxury tax that season, an advantage unto itself.

It's not optimal for Napoli to have a hip problem, but if the Red Sox can protect themselves through his contract -- making it so they can void a season if necessary, adding another on the cheap to make up for the issue, anything like that -- then the fallout from this condition will be lessened. Think for a moment about the last two big contracts Boston signed that didn't include language about pre-existing injuries. Carl Crawford had a long-term wrist issue that ended up requiring surgery. Adrian Gonzalez had received shoulder surgery before Boston traded for him, and there were times even after the procedure that it was reportedly an issue for him. Boston couldn't get out of the deals with opt-outs or anything of the sort, they had to stick with them, at least until the Dodgers pulled them out of that fire.

And, on a deal as short-term as this one -- Napoli agreed to just three years -- the chances of his hip being problematic are reduced. Drew and Lackey both signed for five years, Crawford seven, and Gonzalez's extension made it eight. Napoli's price tag of $13 million per season also means that, should his hip fail him in one of the three years, the Red Sox have the resources and space in the budget to compensate for the issue in-season, a luxury they couldn't afford over the last couple of seasons with what were then considered their high-priced players.

This is all hypothetical, though. We'll have to wait for one of the two parties to break the silence and let everyone know what the delay is. It could turn out to just be Boston in the midst of other moves, unwilling to use up the limited 40-man space they currently have when they don't have to. But, if it isn't, and this delay is injury-related, at least they are likely looking to insure themselves against the issue.

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