Boston still hasn't signed Mike Napoli, but that doesn't mean it's time to look elsewhere
The Boston Herald's Scott Lauber brings up a few points on Wednesday as to why he thinks the Red Sox should just call it quits on the Mike Napoli negotiations. The central reason is that another first baseman, Adam LaRoche, remains available. What's a little strange, though, is that Lauber essentially defeats the idea that LaRoche is a better fit within the confines of his own piece.
Lauber does have good points in Laroche's favor -- the intention here is not to dismiss his preference for LaRoche out of hand. LaRoche is a more durable player, who, besides missing a significant chunk of 2011 due to shoulder surgery, has averaged 147 games per season over seven full years. Napoli, on the other hand, has spent far less time on the diamond thanks to being a catcher, but also because his list of injuries is significantly longer than that of LaRoche. Not to mention that the reason this deal isn't done yet is because of a hip the Red Sox are concerned enough about that they are reworking the contract language of the as-of-yet unofficial deal.
The other item pointed out is that LaRoche is a fine defensive first baseman, while Napoli, at best, is going to be tolerable. That's meaningful as well, but the question here is whether or not those two positives outweigh the negatives LaRoche would bring, negatives that Lauber himself brings up.
For one, LaRoche is a left-handed hitter, while Napoli is right-handed. Napoli is an excellent fit for Fenway, one who could very well dominate at the plate because of his power to all fields and especially thanks to the presence of the Green Monster in left. Fenway works well for lefties of a certain type, and it likely wouldn't limit LaRoche much because he does hit the ball pretty far -- he averaged 397 feet on homers last year -- but he wouldn't get the same type of boost that Napoli would. There's also the idea that, in a division dominated by left-handed starters, in a division full of other playoff hopefuls, more right-handed power in the lineup is an inherent positive these days.
The other portion, and the part that fits in with what it is the Red Sox are attempting to do with their off-season -- play for now without giving up the future -- is that LaRoche would cost Boston their first unprotected pick in the 2013 draft. That would be their second-round selection, and, while in most years, that would be a late pick, their terrible 2012 means it is close to what past sandwich-round picks have been. Because of its placement as an early-40s pick in the draft, it carries with it a hefty draft budget allocation of roughly $1.5 million.
The Red Sox could draft a total nobody with their second-overall pick, but that wouldn't change the meaning of the it. In 2012, the first season with a draft budget, the Red Sox picked three legitimate first-round selections, and then split the rest of their picks from the first 10 rounds among intriguing college seniors who would sign for hundreds of thousands of dollars below slot, and high-upside types who they could throw their financial flexibility at, such as Ty Buttrey. If they sacrifice their second-round pick and the $1.5 million that comes with it, they can't use that strategy once again. Given they only have the one first-round pick this year to begin with, it's already going to be difficult to maneuver like they have in the past, especially since that first-rounder is likely to use up much, if not all or more, of the budget allocated to that slot to begin with.
Napoli might not be the defender LaRoche is, and he might end up missing time with an injury. However, his upside is far greater than that of LaRoche, who comes with the additional price tag of Boston's second-round draft pick and the budget that comes with it. This whole renegotiation situation isn't optimal by any means, especially when it's been a month now, but it's no reason to go out and get Adam LaRoche instead when it doesn't have to work that way. If Napoli signs elsewhere, then it's a discussion worth having, but unless that occurs, Boston should be focused on Napoli all the way.