Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino was on Jim Bowden's radio show this past weekend, and the two discussed the kinds of contracts the team would be willing to hand out this off-season. There's no surprise to the thought that Boston wants to avoid any significant long-term deals, given they just got out from underneath their multiple ventures on that front, but of more interest is that Lucchino specifically cited the team's interest in Mike Napoli along the same lines.
Boston wants Napoli, but they are holding off on giving him that fourth year. A fourth season would be risky, but there are reasons to do it if Boston absolutely has to: they can easily bury him or shift him on the roster in the last year of the deal if necessary, and that would be the price to pay in order to have him around in the interim. If the Mariners offer Napoli a fourth year, and he gives the Red Sox a last chance to match, then you could be forgiven for Boston going four. But when no one else on the market is going four years, there's no need to push it. Napoli very likely would rather play in Fenway than Safeco, given what the latter -- even with the fences in -- could do to his offensive numbers. It's also important to consider that, despite the collapse of 2012, Boston has a much better chance of competing over the life of a Napoli contract than does Seattle. If the Mariners aren't willing to up the ante, then the Red Sox should sit tight and see if Napoli will choose Boston for three years over three with the M's.With everything else being equal, the environment should be enough to sell him on.
Napoli is one of the few Boston targets that could very well be wrapped up this week during the winter meetings. He has a market, he already has offers, and there are only so many first basemen on the market. The Red Sox have also looked in on Adam LaRoche, but given he would cost Boston their second-round selection (and the draft budget that comes with it), and is an inferior and older player, it's more likely these negotiations are leverage than Boston's preference.
Now, all that's left is to wait and see if Napoli will give in and take three years with the Red Sox, or if the spirit of the winter meetings causes someone to go overboard and reset the negotiation process for all.