The Red Sox say they have nothing to report. Napoli's agent, Brian Grieper, says, as he did again Thursday afternoon, "We just don't feel the need to comment until this gets resolved."
Thirty-two days since they agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract, almost that long since the required physical, the Red Sox and Napoli remain in limbo. The issue, according to sources, is a hip condition Napoli may or may not have known about before the Red Sox got into his medicals, and then how the club can protect itself from it.
The team's preference is Napoli over LaRoche, both for the preserved draft pick and the right-handed power bat. Napoli's preference, presumably, is the Red Sox and Fenway Park over a free-agency mulligan, this one with a health red flag. According to reports out of Boston, another organization has shown interest in Napoli, and maybe that's true, and maybe someone was hoping to prod the Red Sox into action.
While this seemingly could be solved with a two-year contract with a vesting option – games played, perhaps – for the third year, clearly Napoli has resisted major changes to the original agreement. The Red Sox apparently have resisted guaranteeing $39 million on a hip they don't trust. What they do know is their own surprise when the Texas Rangers did not make Napoli a qualifying offer, inaction that in hindsight seems, to them, telling.
So here they sit, Napoli taking the chance the Red Sox move on, the Red Sox taking the chance Napoli does. Perhaps they are a phone call from coming to terms. Yet, presumably, many phone calls have come and gone without resolution.
First base is among the final pieces in a Red Sox refurnishing that doesn't look half-bad. GM Ben Cherington has built a team he hopes can be sneaky competitive and knows will be more cohesive. Assuming the slightest bit of fight from a starting rotation that adds free agent Ryan Dempster, a healthy John Lackey and the reassuring hand of John Farrell, the Red Sox should not be the embarrassment they were in 2012. That probably doesn't push them to the top of the AL East, and maybe doesn't even pull them from the bottom, but it's progress.
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Though he lacks the glove and instincts (and perhaps the bat) of LaRoche at first, and is coming out of a season in which he batted .227 and struck out in more than a third of his at-bats, Napoli would go along fine with what the Red Sox are trying to do. Or they could give up, swallow hard on the draft pick and sign LaRoche. They could trade for Mike Morse, assuming the Washington Nationals eventually come to agreement with LaRoche.
For the moment, however, the Red Sox seem content to see out the Napoli saga. And why not? There are still six weeks of limbo to be served.
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