Boston wants a defensive-minded backup first baseman, and Nick Cafardo says they're looking
It's still expected that the Red Sox end up with Mike Napoli at first base eventually, but the club is looking for defensive-minded backup options to help out at the position as well. Nick Cafardo writes that, in addition to Bobby Abreu -- who the team worked out but didn't make an offer to -- the Red Sox have "explored" Casey Kotchman and Nick Johnson. Those names are a bit frightening, but as late-inning defensive options, said fear is lessened. It certainly beats having to watch Mauro Gomez play defense.
Cafardo also mentions that the Red Sox checked in on the trade availability of Justin Smoak. While he still has options remaining, he'll be 26 in 2013, and has spent three years in the minors, so he would have to clear waivers before he could be sent to Triple-A Pawtucket. While he'd likely clear due to the same gentleman's agreement that allowed Daniel Bard to be sent down last summer, Boston would more likely have been checking in on Smoak to get a replacement for Napoli.
That doesn't mean that they've given up on Napoli, or that signing him is Plan B, or anything like that. Just like with checking in on Adam LaRoche, and keeping the conversation alive with Nick Swisher, the Sox were likely just making sure they had some backup plans in place. Since very little is out there regarding Smoak, it's likely the price was unacceptable for a first baseman who has hit as poorly as Smoak has in his career. That, or Boston wants to make sure something with Napoli is not going to happen before committing to someone like Smoak.
The guess is that the switch-hitting Smoak would do far better in Fenway than in Safeco. From the left side, Safeco depresses homers less than Fenway, but doubles and triples production is nearly halved. From the right side, homers are cut by about 30 percent against the average, and doubles/triples are once again awful. In short, the Sox wouldn't be acquiring a a guy who has hit .227/.304/.382 with the Mariners, much like Adrian Beltre wasn't a .266/.317/.442 hitter when Boston signed him, even if his Seattle line said he was.
This doesn't mean Smoak is optimal -- you would still prefer Napoli -- but he would still be a far superior option to Gomez, or to keeping Jerry Sands around, or to giving the Carlos Penas and Casey Kotchmans of the world another go. That being said, sign Mike Napoli, please.