After healthy 2013, Mike Napoli hopes to be back with Red Sox

Rob Bradford
September 12, 2013 - 12:43 pm

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  -- Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, on the day that he reached his catch-all incentive that guaranteed him $8 million in bonuses by being on the active roster for 165 days of the 2013 season, took stock of the accomplishment as well as what that means for his future. "It just basically says I stayed healthy the whole year. I was able to stay on the field. Training staff helped me do that, took care of me. Every day I've been in there. A lot goes to them, too," said Napoli. "But it's nice." That is particularly true given where Napoli was during the offseason, in a state of uncertainty once the diagnosis of avascular necrosis in both hips forced him to renegotiate his three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox into a one-year, $5 million contract with up to $8 million in incentives. Ultimately, Napoli decided that he couldn't focus on the performance incentives or health, to considerable effect. "I was in kind of a tough situation, too, because what if I got hit in the hand -- nothing to do with my hip? That was kind of the uncomfortable feeling at times. But I feel like if you play hard, go the way you're supposed to and not worry about, 'I can't do this, I can't do that,' if you just play the game hard then things will work out," said Napoli. "With everything that happened this offseason, it was like, whatever. I'm just going to go out there and play, not really worry about it and just play. It's what I've done all year." That approach, in turn, has put Napoli in a fairly strong position going forward. In contrast to the uncertainty that characterized his last foray into free agency, Napoli -- after MRIs showed no progression in the symptoms of his AVN, a degenerative condition that leads to the deterioration and death of bone in the hips -- believes that teams will feel comfortable approaching him with multi-year offers this winter. "From how my MRI and everything looked the second time of staying the same, I don't see why not. I don't see why teams wouldn't be confident that I have this under control. But I'm going to have to go through the physical, go through all that stuff again, but when the time comes, that's when I'll worry about it," said Napoli. "After last offseason, I can't really [guess], because after going into last offseason thinking I'd get that multi-year contract, I did my time, I'm a free agent, finally got that time, and look what happened. I take the one-day approach now. When that time comes, we'll figure it out, go from there." The mere fact that it's a question about whether teams might commit to him for multiple years represents considerable progress from last winter. "At first, we didn't know how this thing was going to react. My first reaction and thoughts were I might have to go year-to-year for the rest of my career and be incentives-based. I don't know. I didn't know how my hips were going to go," said Napoli. "That's why we kept on taking the MRIs to see what's going on in there, and it's been exactly the same." Meanwhile, with his late-season surge, Napoli has positioned himself to be one of the top options -- perhaps even the top option -- at first base in a relatively weak free agent class at the position. He's hitting .260 with a .354 OBP, .482 slugging mark, 21 homers and a major league-leading 4.58 pitches per plate appearance. As a whole, his numbers have been very much in line with what the Red Sox had hoped for when they made him their foremost free agent target at the start of last winter. Napoli, for his part, has felt a perfect fit in Boston and hopes to be back. "I love it here. It's just something special, and a lot of these guys are going to be back here next year. I'm pretty sure some of these guys who are free agents, they're probably going to try to lock up, too," said Napoli. "This is an ideal spot. I've never had anything like this. I had it really good in Texas. But this is unbelievable."