The longer the Napoli deal drags out, the less likely it seems that the Red Sox will be able to come to an agreement with the first baseman and his questionable hip. While "hopeful" is certainly a positive word, it's hard not to see it as a bad sign given how far it is from simply being finished.
As the Napoli deal becomes less and less certain, fans have started to look elsewhere for first base solutions. Some have their eyes set on the other free agent left on the market in Adam LaRoche, while others pin their hopes on a trade for Ike Davis from the Mets or Michael Morse from the Nationals.
Any of these options would be decent choices to pen into the lineup every day, but not all of them make that much sense or seem all that realistic. Adam LaRoche seems like a generally bad idea between his past and his price both in terms of dollars and a draft pick. The Mets maintain that Ike Davis is not for sale, and while the Sox certainly have the pieces in the minor leagues to pry him loose, the indication is that the return needed will be too high for a player of Davis' caliber and questions.
No, by all accounts it's Mike Morse who would be the affordable one, with rumors that the Nationals would be looking for little more than a left-handed reliever in return. Even if the price is higher than that, it's unlikely to be prohibitive, especially if they end up re-signing Adam LaRoche.
I'm not here to talk about Mike Morse directly, though. At least not entirely. He's a fine player, certainly, if something of a poor man's Napoli in terms of both ceiling and floor. But what I'm more interested in is his contract situation, and what it could mean for the Red Sox. While Morse is about to hit free agency after 2013, at least for the coming season he's still on the arbitration-avoiding contract he signed with the Nats--one which comes in at an average annual value of just over $5 million. Napoli, of course, was expected to be signing at $13 million a year, a fair sight more.
When the Red Sox completed the Joel Hanrahan deal, one of the major concerns expressed by detractors of the trade was the effect the deal would have on Boston's payroll, pushing it up against the luxury tax threshold which has acted as a soft cap for the team for years now. Essentially, it seemed to signal the end of Boston's offseason moves.
All the calculations involving payroll, however, have been based on the assumption that Napoli would sign his reported 3-year, $39 million deal. If that deal never happened, however, and the Sox instead found themselves with someone like Mike Morse, they'd suddenly have some money to play around with.
The biggest question outside of first base remaining for the Red Sox is in the rotation. While the Sox added Ryan Dempster, and have a good few depth options in Franklin Morales, Rubby De La Rosa, and Allen Webster, there are just too few players that Sox fans can really have faith in to consistently provide high-quality starts. Unfortunately, the $8 million freed up won't get them an impressive starter--the options just aren't there at that price.
However, with the market having declined sharply, there are still more options out there to provide that extra depth--more options to fling at the wall to see what sticks--who could come in at a low price. Joe Saunders says he wants a three-year deal, but so far nobody is interested in giving it to him at all. Kyle Lohse still hasn't so much as heard the phone ring (thanks in large part to the draft pick price attached to him). Even Shaun Marcum is still out there, struggling to find a home with his durability concerns.
None of these names is exactly exciting, and it's possible none of them is terribly realistic. Even if the Red Sox offers one of them more money than they could have hoped to get elsewhere on a one-year deal, Fenway is still a pretty serious deterrent for any pitcher, especially one who's not signing up for big dollars over long years.
Still, we've seen crazier things happen, and any pitcher who's looking for a starting spot that can't find one elsewhere has to think they've got a pretty good chance of making it into Boston's rotation given the presence of guys like Lackey and, to some extent, Doubront. Where we see causes for concern, other pitchers could see opportunity.
This is not to say that the Sox should abandon ship on the Mike Napoli deal. By all accounts he's their best option at first base in a vacuum, and even with the incentive of adding a starting pitcher--far from a sure thing under these circumstances--it might still be better to stick with the one player who's most likely to provide a serious impact rather than two who only might.
Still, if the worst comes to pass and Napoli is not in a Sox uniform this coming season, there's a very real chance to make the best of a bad situation.