Peter Gammons thought up an interesting gambit for the Red Sox this past week: trade Mike Napoli to sign Adam LaRoche.
The idea is based on the growing concern that the Red Sox just have too many right-handed bats. It's a concern that has every writer in Boston trying to wedge a lefty in at third base, behind the plate, and now, apparently, at first base as well.
If we take a step back from the idea and start labeling Mike Napoli as "Player A" and Adam LaRoche as "Player B," it's actually not quite as crazy as it sounds. Napoli and LaRoche have been roughly equivalent at the plate over the past three years--granted, advantage Napoli, just not by that much. Napoli has played better defense than LaRoche, but LaRoche has been much healthier, and doesn't have any real health concerns going forward aside from the fact that he's older than Napoli to begin with.
All this is to say that, if you really value the idea of adding a left-handed bat, the argument could be made that slotting Adam LaRoche into Mike Napoli's roster spot is pretty much a lateral move.
That exercise is kind of a stretch in its own right. All it does is show that you could construct a certain set of priorities such that Adam LaRoche is on par with Mike Napoli, going out of its way to avoid the simple issue that in both recent and distant history, Napoli has simply been the more valuable player. But, for the sake of argument, let's ignore that and call Napoli - LaRoche a one-for-one swap.
Even then...why bother?
If a team had the option to have either Player A or Player B on their roster, knowing that each one would be equally productive and nothing else, they may as well flip a coin to make the choice. But this is not Player A and Player B, it's Mike Napoli and, well, not Mike Napoli. Mike Napoli is familiar. He's performed in Boston, is something of a surprise fan favorite, and by all accounts seems to be well-liked in the clubhouse.
The same cannot be said for Adam LaRoche. That's not to take anything away from him as a person or a player, it's just a matter of Napoli having been here for two years now, and LaRoche having made little more than a brief pitstop here in 2009. It's not a matter of the "Devil you know," but only because it seems entirely unreasonable to call Napoli a devil.
Sometimes you have to think outside the box to produce the best possible team. But being tricky and clever just for the sake of being tricky and clever is asking for trouble. Adam LaRoche is, at best, a slightly better fit on paper than Mike Napoli, and at worst, a significant downgrade. The Red Sox roster could use some balancing, and there are holes to fill, but for 2015 first base is a solved position, and unless the Sox have a chance to add an impact talent by changing that (spoilers: they don't), they should leave Mike Napoli right where he is.