Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yankees Should Look Into Napoli

It looked like the Boston Red Sox were a cinch to sign free agent Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39MM contract. The only thing that stood in the way was the prerequisite physical. Apparently, the results of which have led to a renegotiation between the Red Sox and Napoli's representation.

The hold up is rumored to be an issue with one of Napoli's hips. Burned or semi-burned by big contracts to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in 2010-2011, the Red Sox will be very cautious in what they will pay a player that might be damaged goods.

The situation could still fall apart completely, and is the impetus behind the rumor that the Red Sox have reached out to free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche. The 33-year old is coming off a career year for the Washington Nationals in which he hit a career high 33 home runs, tied his best season with 100 RBI, made his first All-Star appearance, and also snared his first Gold Glove Award. He would almost certainly come at a higher cost than Napoli, despite being two years older than the former member of the  Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers.

You can bet Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has pictured Napoli peppering the Green Monster of Fenway Park, but LaRoche would actually make more sense. The Sox have prided themselves on defense for a number of years now and LaRoche would fit the bill as a superior first baseman to the more inexperienced Napoli (133 career games at first base). On the down side, LaRoche tends to be a pull hitter, which doesn't necessarily work well for a left-handed hitter in Fenway Park.

But enough about the Red Sox; after all, this is supposed to be about the Yankees checking in on Napoli. Obviously, they too would have to check in on the condition of Napoli's hip. (One highly paid player in NY with bad hips is enough.) But they should try to offer Napoli a two year deal worth $30MM or even have only one year guaranteed with an optional second year that can kick in automatically if Napoli meets certain criteria (games played, hits, etc.).

Though Napoli is not as stupendous player as some people think - his 2011 post-season has warped the view of him - he's a much better hitter than the recently signed Matt Diaz. Granted, the two would not be competing for the same spot, but the Yankees are going to need a better right-handed bat than Diaz to make up for the loss of Alex Rodriguez. (Or more precisely, what the A-Rod achieved at one time.)

It's already been made crystal clear that these are not the George Steinbrenner Yankees and staying under the $189MM limit by 2014 is a hard and fast rule in Yankeeland. That being said, some money will be freed up when Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera will likely be coming off the books after the 2013 season (a combined $22MM) and Curtis Granderson's $15MM will as well.

Whether the Yankees are setting things up to sell the team or managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner is being more fiscally prudent than his Dad, the Yankees still need to be competitive if they expect the fans to fork over their hard earned dollars to buy single game and season tickets.

Adding Mike Napoli to the lineup could help in that regard.

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