November 27, 2012

Tom Caron: Sox want Napoli, and new attitudes

BOSTON - The Red Sox have had Mike Napoli on their radar for years. Now, they're hoping to land the free-agent target as part of their off-season overhaul.

Napoli was in town over the weekend to meet with the Red Sox, who undoubtedly tried to sell him on the concept that Fenway Park would be the perfect hitter-friendly home for him in the years to come.

General Manager Ben Cherington didn't need to offer any Cyber Monday deals in this sales pitch. Napoli should be well aware that Fenway is tailor-made for his right-handed power.

In 75 career at-bats in Boston (including the playoffs), Napoli has hit nine homers and posted a .307 batting average with an eye-popping 1.137 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage.)

Those are far better numbers than he posted as a catcher with the Rangers last year -- Napoli hit just .227 for Texas.

While he didn't hit for average, he did hit for power (24 HRs and a .469 slugging percentage) and he got on base (.343 OBP.) These are numbers the Red Sox covet.

They want Napoli enough to make him their primary first baseman.

He only played 63 games at first over his two seasons with Texas, while catching 133 games. His defense might be an issue on the right side of the infield -- a problem that could be exacerbated if newcomer Jonny Gomes is behind him in right field.

The Sox got Gomes because he can hit, and because he's got an infectious personality that can energize a clubhouse.

And, as we all know, this is a clubhouse that badly needs help in the character department.

That's why Cherington has reportedly been in ongoing discussions with Nick Swisher, the flamboyant outfielder Sox fans loved to hate when he was playing with the Yankees.

It's also why the GM was quick to sign David Ross this fall.

They are already bemoaning the loss of Ross in Atlanta, where the Braves say he was one of the most important leaders on the team.

The only problem with the Ross signing is that he's a catcher.

The Sox already have two young catchers in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway.

And now they are deep in discussions with Napoli, who is a catcher by trade.

Napoli was quick to tell the world that he doesn't simply view himself as a catcher. He says he's willing to play wherever he can fit into a lineup.

Smart move for a potential employee to play the "I'll do whatever it takes" card, but is Napoli more likely to sign elsewhere if he can spend more time behind the plate there?

The Sox can't, and most likely won't, overspend on Napoli.

That means the four-year deal he's reportedly looking for might keep Boston from landing the 32-year old.

It's also why they won't sign a marquee player like Josh Hamilton unless his market softens significantly.

For now, Cherington will continue to look for players who want to play in Boston as he tries to rebuild a roster worthy of whatever passion remains in the place we call Red Sox Nation.

Napoli would fill that position -- even if he's got to play a different position to fit in.

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.

 

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