Despite willingness for multi-year deal, gap remains with Red Sox, Mike Napoli

December 06, 2013 - 7:19 am

The departure of Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in free agency raised questions for a number of Red Sox players. According to manager John Farrell, in his appearance on WEEI's Salk & Holley show, players became curious as to whether the Sox might retain any of the four most prominent free agents -- Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew -- from their 2013 World Series winner. Farrell said that he offered a measure of reassurance on that front. "Because Jacoby and Salty hit the airwaves that they both signed, it was, OK, are we bringing any guys back? That was part of the question. I said, 'Absolutely, we're in the works. We're in the process,' " Farrell explained of his conversations with players on Tuesday night, in the aftermath of news of Ellsbury's deal with the Yankees and Saltalamacchia's with the Marlins. "That's where [GM Ben Cherington] is doing the best he can with the two remaining guys, with Mike and Stephen. We're going to do anything we can to bring both guys back." While the Sox would love to bring back Drew given the value they attach to his offensive impact as a left-handed hitter and his up-the-middle defense, there is an obvious in-house alternative at shortstop if he does leave in the form of Xander Bogaerts. First base may be another story. A number of Sox team officials continue to describe Napoli as the team's preferred option at first. But whether there will be common ground in re-signing the first baseman remains to be seen. According to an industry source, with Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson off the board, the pursuit of Napoli is intensifying. And the first baseman, coming off a strong season, hopes to at least match the three-year, $39 million deal (in terms of both length and dollars) to which he initially agreed with the Sox last December, before the diagnosis of avascular necrosis in his hips caused the two sides to renegotiate a one-year, $5 million deal. The Sox, according to multiple sources, are willing to re-sign Napoli for multiple years based on his performance and ability to remain healthy without showing any further deterioration of his hips in 2013. But at this time, it is unknown whether the team is willing to go beyond two years to sign the free agent. Moreover, with Napoli representing one of the premier power bats on the market, it appears that other teams may be willing to extend beyond two years. As such, while Napoli has made clear his preference to return to the Red Sox, the gap between the Sox' offer and that of other teams right now appears such that he is exploring alternatives. That doesn't rule out the possibility of a deal with the Sox, but it does seem apparent that the market for Napoli will achieve definition in the near future given the other dominoes that are falling in the free agent market.