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What to make of the revised Mike Napoli deal

01.17.13 at 12:39 pm ET
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On its face, the change in terms is stunning.

On Dec. 3, the Red Sox agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with Mike Napoli. On Jan. 17, 45 days later, Napoli and the Sox finalized a one-year, $5 million contract. It’s a staggering decrease in the guarantee.

Consider:

  • Lance Berkman, who was limited to 32 games in 2012 by a knee that required surgery, got a one-year, $11 million guarantee from the Rangers. (Hat-tip to Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLBTradeRumors.com for pointing that one out.)
  • David Ortiz, who was limited to 90 games and missed almost all of the second half of 2012 with an injured Achilles, received a two-year, $26 million deal that could rise to a two-year, $30 million deal if he avoids the DL.
  • Other first basemen who signed this winter included Adam LaRoche (two years, $25 million), Kevin Youkilis (one year, $12 million) and Mark Reynolds (one year, $6 million).
  • Jonny Gomes, who is likely to see most of his playing time in a platoon role primarily against left-handed pitchers, received a two-year, $10 million deal from the Red Sox.

In other words, it’s startling to see where Napoli’s contract ended up. He’s making 47 percent less than the $9.4 million he made in 2012, in his last year of arbitration eligibility prior to reaching free agency. His guarantee dropped by 62 percent on an average annual value basis; overall, it fell by 87 percent (from $39 million to $5 million). On the surface, it looks like he’s being treated as a more dramatically damaged asset than players such as Berkman who missed dramatically more time.

Unquestionably, Napoli has had a host of ailments through the years, although the various issues that have resulted in stints on the DL (calf, shoulder, etc.) have not featured the hip condition that resulted in the considerable reduction in this deal. So how’d that happen?

A couple of points are worth mention. First, Napoli has incentives if he avoids the disabled list that could increase its value back to roughly the $13 million for which he was originally in line for 2013.

Secondly, while he represented one of the top sluggers on the market when healthy, he doesn’t have the pedigree of Berkman and Ortiz — either in terms of perennial performance or, for that matter, the ability to stay on the field. Napoli has played more than 114 games once; Ortiz had played at least 140 games in seven of the last eight seasons before last summer’s Achilles injury.

All the same, it’s an extreme reduction that appears to have little recent precedent. The Sox saw potential injury red flags with other players in recent years (such as John Lackey and J.D. Drew), but in both cases, the two players ended up agreeing to deals that largely preserved the original years and dollars in the deal (five years, $70 million for Drew; five years, $82.5 million with Lackey), with language that allowed the team to add or subtract years from the deal in case a pre-existing injury (shoulder for Drew, elbow for Lackey) led either to miss a specified amount of time.

Napoli’s hip, evidently (even without knowing the extent of the damage that the Sox saw), is different — and perhaps with good reason. After all, the team saw Mike Lowell struggle with his range, offensive production and health over the life of his three-year deal that ran from 2008-10. Kevin Youkilis was limited significantly by bursitis in his hip (along with a sports hernia) in 2011, and didn’t perform to his pre-injury standards when he returned in 2012. Carlos Delgado‘s career careened off a cliff due to his hip labrum issues. Alex Rodriguez has seen his career enter a steady decline since he started to experience hip issues.

Perhaps those precedents explain why Napoli ended up with just a one-year deal that will put him back on the market next winter. If he remains healthy, the Sox will benefit from getting a productive player on a low-risk, one-year deal, and Napoli will have a chance to return to free agency coming off of his age 31 season, with a chance to hit the market as one of the preeminent hitting first basemen and/or catchers on the market.

But if he suffers a health setback, then the player is accepting almost all of the risk, with the Sox unencumbered by any salary commitments to him beyond the coming year.

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