Yeah it’s a slow news day. But it’s also the one year anniversary of Mike Napoli strolling around the streets of Boston without a shirt following the team’s 2013 World Series victory. Those were better days huh? As we are currently witnessing, the week following the World Series and before free agency begins is one of the most boring weeks of the baseball season. So seeing Nap party like it’s 1918 down Boylston Street brought a little fun to the doldrums that is the first week of the offseason.
What these shirtless shenanigans bring to mind is another one year mark that is fast approaching: the end of Napoli’s contract with the Red Sox. After the end of the 2015 season, the Sox starting first baseman is slated to become a free agent. I know it’s a full year away and a lot can happen between now and then, but it’s still an important issue to address. Napoli has been incredibly reliable since he came to Boston. He had 23 HRs and 92 RBIs in his first year while batting .259. His numbers (along with one of his fingers) took a turn last year, as he played in 20 fewer games for the Sox in 2014, but even with his blimp of a finger he still managed to hit 17 HRs. Napoli has also shown himself to be a surprisingly good defensive first baseman, fielding at or above league average since he got here and deserved to be nominated for the Gold Glove in 2013.
Past Napoli the Red Sox have no depth at first base. Brock Holt and Daniel Nava are listed after Napoli on the Red Sox depth charts. Both of them are nice players but they’re only good for spot starts at 1B, and aren’t sustainable replacements. And with exception of Anthony Rizzo (Who was traded away as soon as he was good enough) the Red Sox struggle to develop first basemen in the farm system. The only other example is recently retired Kevin Youkilis, who only played first because third base was occupied by Mike Lowell.
This leaves the Sox with only a few options if they let Napoli walk. The only potentially comparable first baseman on the market in 2016 is Adam LaRoche, who as of writing this has had his 2015 option declined by the Nationals and is a free agent this offseason instead of next, meaning he is most likely no longer an option. So the only acceptable remaining choices now are to sign Napoli, or find a trade partner for a high end first baseman.
Personally, I feel the Sox should extend Napoli. On top of being reliable at the plate and in the field, he’s one of the most liked Red Sox on this team. Getting blasted and walking around the city without a shirt on may be the most Bostonian thing a born Floridian can do. He’s adopted this city as his home, and likewise, fans have adopted him as one of our own. So with no suitable replacement on the market, I think it’s fair to hope that we see Mike Napoli wearing a Red Sox uniform for the foreseeable future.