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Mike Napoli’s agent Brian Grieper takes stock of client’s free agent foray

11.15.13 at 12:21 pm ET
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Mike Napoli's agent, Brian Grieper, defined some of the differences his client faces in free agency in 2013 as opposed to last offseason. (Brita Meng Outzen)

Mike Napoli’s agent, Brian Grieper, defined some of the differences his client faces in free agency in 2013 as opposed to last offseason. (Brita Meng Outzen)

Agent Brian Grieper has known Mike Napoli since the first baseman was a bearded high schooler who looked, quite literally, like a men among boys in South Florida. And so, the moments after Napoli became a World Series winner was experienced in terms that went beyond dollars and cents. In the celebration at Fenway Park, Grieper found Napoli — hat backwards, sporting a World Series T-shirt, bottle of champagne in hand — and the two had what Grieper referred to, in an interview on WEEI’s Hot Stove Show on Thursday, as one of the greatest moments he’s had a chance to experience in the nearly 14 years that he’s represented the player.

“I have a picture of him and I and his beard right after the World Series,” said Grieper. “We hugged it out and had a Jerry Maguire moment right there where we both celebrated his World Series championship. It’s always great as an agent, as a fan of the game and a friend to celebrate those kinds of moments with people you truly care about.”

In October, Napoli’s focus was on grasping the World Series trophy that he so nearly grasped with the Rangers but that ultimately, one strike from a championship, eluded him. Now, however, in November, the focus is on the future, rather than the present.

Napoli, for the second straight offseason, is a free agent. This time, however, the conversations that Grieper had with teams during the GM meetings in Orlando this week were different than the ones he had a year ago. A lot has happened to change the market that Napoli is encountering this offseason as opposed to the one he explored a year ago, when he reached an initial three-year, $39 million deal with the Sox that, after a degenerative hip condition was discovered in the physical, was adjusted to a one-year, $5 million pact with incentives that pushed it up to $13 million.

“Last year, the majority of our conversations were how many games is Mike Napoli going to catch?” Grieper recalled, referencing the fact that Napoli was viewed by most teams as a catcher — the position where he’d spent the vast majority of his career prior to 2013. “Was he going to catch 100, 110, 120? What were the club’s expectations? In addition to that, it was where is the bat going to be in the lineup. It was both an offensive and defensively minded question, determining the best fit for how he could handle the pitching staff behind the plate.

“This year, it is much different. Obviously, Mike’s no longer a catcher. He’s a first baseman, a power hitter, arguably the best first baseman on the free agent market this year. Interestingly enough, he’s kind of flown a little under the radar with regards to his defensive prowess. He’s done really well there. I’m kind of surprised he didn’t become a finalist in the Gold Glove voting. Defensively, as a first baseman, he’s been fantastic. He got better as the season went on. … This year is slightly different because we’re talking about a different position, a different sort of player, and he has a different accolade under his belt than he did prior. He’s a World Series champion this year, and a guy who’s continued to hit for power. In fact he’s one of 11 guys over the last six years to hit 20 or more home runs in each of those years. He’s been healthy all year, too. He played the most games he’s had at first base. He had a medical diagnosis last year, but it’s of no concern as we move forward through the process. The guy had zero symptoms whatsoever, zero issues, and was healthy. He’s looking forward to 2014, wherever that destination may be.”

Grieper said that some teams did ask questions about Napoli’s hip condition (avascular necrosis), while others did not view it as a concern.

“In talking with some teams, they asked questions, I answered them extensively. For some teams, [the hip condition] was not an issue,” said Grieper. “Each organization employs a doctor that reviews players’ files, they review their history, they review MRIs. Yes, there was certainly some education more along the lines of what really occurred behind the scenes this year with Mike and how he treated his condition, which did not affect him whatsoever. It was an education process for some clubs, more than anything, reassuring them that he did not have any side effects or after-effects from his original diagnosis last December.”

It remains early in the free agent process. It will take time for Napoli’s market to take shape. While Grieper declined to offer specifics about whether his client had received multi-year offers (Jen Royle of the Boston Herald reported on Thursday that Napoli had received a one-year offer for more than the $14.1 million qualifying offer that the Red Sox made — and that Napoli declined), he suggested that he does remain in contact with the Red Sox among other clubs.

“I’ve been in touch with a lot of teams that have expressed interest where Mike is a good fit for them, including the Red Sox. I’ve had ongoing talks with [Red Sox GM] Ben Cherington and his staff, and we’re keeping the lines of communication open with the Red Sox and other ball clubs as well,” said Grieper. “As a free agent, you have to determine what the market is. You have to determine various considerations as to what your client wants to do. And then you have to explain all that information to your client. More than anything, you have to make sure your client is happy, because ultimately, he’s the boss. He’s the final decision-maker as to where he ends up going. My job is to help guide him through that process, keeping him informed and making sure he’s educated about all the various clubs that have been in touch.”

Grieper does have a PowerPoint presentation that he offers to clubs interested in his client. The first slide, he said, does not feature Napoli’s signature beard, but instead the World Series logo.

“Figured we might start with that, because Mike Napoli is a winner,” said Grieper.

But the agent has found that teams have already typically done their research on a player who ranks among the most notable in this year’s free agent class.

“Clubs know just about everything about your client if they’re in pursuit of him — especially a guy like Mike Napoli, who is one of the top free agent hitters on the market, actually the top free agent power hitter in my mind,” he said.

To listen to the complete interview with Grieper on WEEI’s Hot Stove Show, click here. (Grieper’s interview begins just after the 18 minute mark.)

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