Somewhere between Boylston and Newbury this weekend, Mike Napoli lost his shirt and became a Bostonian. (Pretttttttty sure shirtless celebratory reveling downtown is exactly what Paul Revere had in mind. Or at least Sam Adams.) (Seriously, I’m calling him Sully from now on.)
But will Napoli be on the Sox next year? It’s clear that he should be, despite the fact that the 32-year-old first-baseman is now a free agent.
Napoli was the eighth-best offensive first baseman in all of baseball last year, per Fangraphs. He was eighth in OBP, eighth in SLG, eighth in OPS. Sure, he struck out a ton (fourth-most MLB-wide) but when he hit, he hit for power (his .223 ISO ranked 15th in baseball.)
It’s not as if this season’s offensive output was an anomaly, either. His 129 OPS+ is basically his career average.
That’s the important stuff, as first basemen can only do so much defensively. That’s why the Sox felt comfortable taking a catcher with a bad hip and putting him in the field—holy, what? Napoli led first basemen in UZR last year. Fangraphs had him as the best, ahem, least bad first baseman at 0.3 runs, almost a run better than Mark Trumbo, their second-best defensive player at first-base. In his second year as a full time first-baseman one would think he’d be in line for a similar output.
But there’s the hip! Ah, the hip. The one year deal Napoli signed in the offseason after the Sox learned of his hip condition did all it was supposed to do – give the Sox protection from multi-year commitment and give Napoli some time to prove that he can still be productive. He played in 139 games and avoided the DL all together. Two in-season MRIs showed no worsening of his condition. Injury expert Will Carroll said before the season that there’s no reason to expect Napoli’s hip condition to deteriorate especially rapidly and that’s good enough for me.
It says something that with incentives Napoli earned the entire $13 million (the figure he would have been owed in the original three-year contract), not just the $5 million the Sox laid out in base salary.
Then there’s the whole "We need someone, physically, to play at and/or near first base." Those umpires, real sticklers for the rules. Who’s going to replace Napoli? James Loney, Adam Lind, Justin Morneau are among the other free agent first baseman and – oh good god somebody call Sully.