NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The 2012 Red Sox season was worthy of a country song. Doom, despair and agony enveloped Fenway Park from opening day and kept its hold on Red Sox Nation until the bitter end.
That’s why the Sox acted quickly, reaching an agreement in principal with free agent Mike Napoli.
The Sox have gaping holes to fill, and Napoli’s career numbers at Fenway (.306 BA, 7 HR, 17 RBI in 19 games) make the Sox believers that he can step in and become an everyday first baseman.
Napoli has played 133 games at first over the course of his career, and started 24 games there with the Rangers last season. Word is he’ll do some catching in Boston, but he’ll spend most of his time at first base.
Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington is hoping Napoli helps the team write a new tune for 2013, one that will bring harmony back to baseball in Boston.
They’ve divorced themselves from the manager for the second time in as many autumns, and are now hoping to assemble a roster worthy of New England’s passion for the game.
Will the 2013 season be a love song? It’s much to early to tell.
At this moment there is no question the Sox are the weakest team in the division.
The Yankees, Orioles and Rays all won 90 or more games last season.
The Blue Jays have undergone a complete makeover with a talent infusion from Miami.
Yet the buzz here in Nashville was over the loss of Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez for four to six months because of pending hip surgery.
Age could suddenly be catching up to the New Yorkers, and the Sox have a chance to close the gap on their rival.
Napoli will help them do that. He’s a competitor who has a great swing for Fenway.
David Ross and Jonny Gomes were also good additions to the roster. Gomes is a right-handed hitter in the mold of Cody Ross, and David Ross (no relation) is a good defensive catcher who will bring stability to the pitching staff.
Ross will also bring a leadership presence to the Red Sox clubhouse, helping to fill another void. Folks in Atlanta sing the praises of the role Ross played in the Braves clubhouse last year.
And in Oakland they’ll tell you that Gomes was a high-energy presence in that clubhouse, a spark plug that will help revitalize a Boston roster that seemed listless much of the time last year.
As soon as word of Napoli’s agreement filtered through the cavernous Opryland Hotel, the questions began to circulate concerning the team’s next move.
Could they land a big fish like Josh Hamilton?
The Sox apparently overpaid Napoli annually to avoid giving him a fourth year; they’re hoping to do the same thing with Hamilton.
If they land him, Boston would immediately have to feel better about its chances for 2013.
It was at the winter meetings three years ago that Theo Epstein suggested the team go through a “bridge year” to fill the gap between its current players and the next wave of prospects waiting in the wings.
He was ridiculed for the statement. Instead, the team took a head-first plunge into the cold waters of disaster.
Now, Cherington isn’t talking about bridges. He’s trying to get his team back on the road to success.
That’s sweet music for a team that has come to Music City with a long shopping list.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.