First baseman Mike Napoli made it clear after the World Series that he wanted to stay with the Red Sox. He liked his first season in Boston so much that he stuck around for a few weeks after the World Series.
Team officials also wanted Napoli back and on Friday night a two-year, $32 million deal was reached.
“The beard is coming back to Boston!!! Couldn’t be happier!!” Napoli posted on Twitter at 9:09 p.m.
The Red Sox had competition from the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, and Miami Marlins on Friday, another busy day for baseball moves. That served to bring the agreement into place.
At least one team, perhaps the Rangers, had a more lucrative three-year deal on the table, according to major league sources. But Napoli elected to stay with the Red Sox because of how much he valued his comfort in Boston.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington stuck to his strategy of offering shorter-term deals at a high average annual salary. At $16 million, Napoli will have the highest average annual salary on the team next season barring another high-profile addition.
Napoli’s return was expected. He said several times during and after the season how much he enjoyed playing in Boston and his teammates.
“It’s a great fit for me,” Napoli said following the Series. “This is where I want to stay and I want to work something out. I love playing here, everything about it.”
Napoli was an important piece of the offseason plan for the Red Sox. He hit .259 with an .842 OPS last season, contributing 23 home runs and 92 RBIs to an offense that was the best in the game. The righthanded hitter is important to the middle of the order to balance lefthanded slugger David Ortiz.
Napoli set a team record with 187 strikeouts but led the majors by seeing 4.59 pitches per plate appearance, a skill the Red Sox put much value on.
Napoli was primarily a catcher for the first seven years of his career. The Red Sox converted him to first base full time and he excelled, showing better-than-expected range off the bag.
Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Sox last December that was shortened to one year and $5 million when team doctors discovered a degenerative condition, avascular necrosis, in his hips.
The disease was controlled by medication and Napoli played in 139 games, enabling him to earn $8 million in incentives. In the end, he will get three years and $45 million, a $6 million raise from the original deal.
Napoli had an exit physical after the season and an MRI showed no additional concern with his hips. A physical for the new contract should be a formality. The deal contains no language related to the hip condition.
In theory, the Red Sox could be done making major moves. They signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski earlier this week to replace departed free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They also have well-regarded rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. available to play center field in place of Jacoby Ellsbury, who jumped to the Yankees for a seven-year, $153 million deal.
Free agent shortstop Stephen Drew is a long shot to return but the Sox can fill that spot with Xander Bogaerts, their best prospect in years.
Cherington also signed righthander Edwin Mujica to bring added depth to the bullpen. The Red Sox could be a backup infielder and perhaps an outfielder away from having their roster set.
But many options remain, particularly a trade. The Red Sox have a surplus of starting pitchers and a solid farm system, tools that could enable them to make a deal for a center fielder.
The Dodgers are making two-time All-Star Matt Kemp available. There are concerns about Kemp’s surgically repaired left shoulder. He also has six years and $128 million remaining on his contract.