It's safe to say by now that the Red Sox have their eyes on Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu. After being linked to the newly-cleared free agent for months, Sean McAdam is reporting that Abreu recently worked out for the Red Sox in the Dominican Republic.
We've been over the attraction Abreu could hold for a team like the Red Sox before (see above), but McAdam adds a weird new twist to the situation:
The Sox have an interest in retaining first baseman Mike Napoli, who is about to finish second on the team in homers (23) and RBI (91).
But the Sox would presumably find a way to work Abreu into their lineup even if they re-signed Napoli. Abreu could be viewed as the team's eventual replacement for David Ortiz at DH. Ortiz is soon to turn 38 and is entering the final year of his two-year extension, signed last November.
The Red Sox are certainly no strangers to roster jams. It's not that long ago that they were shuffling Kevin Youkilis, Victor Martinez, Mike Lowell,Jason Varitek, and David Ortiz around. But back then they had the advantage of the "flexibility" of Victor Martinez, who could put himself behind the plate when asked.
Mike Napoli? Jose Dariel Abreu? David Ortiz? The flexibility just doesn't seem to be there. One man for first base, one man for DH, and God help us when it's time for interleague play.
It's an awkward situation the Red Sox find themselves in. Napoli has been perfectly good for the team, and it's entirely possible that they could have him back on another one-year deal if they gave him a qualifying offer, since other teams could well feel uncomfortable giving up a draft pick for one year, or signing a guy with a degenerative hip issue to a multi-year contract. The market there is kind of a mystery. If Jose Dariel Abreu were not on the market, re-signing Napoli would kind of be a no-brainer.
But the problem is that Abreu represents an opportunity for the Red Sox to find a long-term answer at a position where they simply don't have an heir apparent. And that timing could push them towards jumping on the opportunity to fill that gap with Abreu even when they don't strictly need to.
The one way to make that all work would be to give Abreu some time in the minors--certainly not unheard of, even for such a high-profile international free agent. But that would mean locking up some serious payroll in a player who's not even on the 25-man, and if the Red Sox definitely have room to work with financially, dumping an eight-figure salary into the minors for any extended period of time stretches the bounds of credibility.
No, if the Red Sox want Abreu--and it seems like they do--chances are he would be an either-or proposition with regards to Napoli.