Free agent Mike Napoli agreed to contract terms with the Red Sox back on Dec. 3, accepting three years and $39 million to be the team’s primary first baseman.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington acknowledged that a deal was in place that day and happily talked about Napoli’s strengths as a player.
Nearly four weeks later, Napoli remains a free agent because of a pre-existing hip injury. The Red Sox want contract language that protects the team in the event of a debilitating injury.
On Thursday, manager John Farrell said Napoli remains a priority.
“That is still being worked on,” Farrell said during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “As Ben has mentioned, there are no updates in terms of where that situation exists. We’re hopeful he is in a Red Sox uniform, but there are still things to work through.
“The thing that has not changed is Mike Napoli is a clear-cut target for us. We’re not turning the page on this situation as of today, and that’s not to allude that at some point in the future we’re going to. But our goal, and Ben’s goal, is to get something worked out and a deal in place.”
There is leverage that could be applied by both sides. Fox Sports reported that the Sox have stayed in touch with free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche is seeking a three-year deal to stay with the Washington Nationals. The team would prefer a two-year agreement for the 33-year-old.
Napoli also has options with several teams still in the market for offensive help.
If the Red Sox were to sign LaRoche, a qualified free agent, they would forfeit a draft pick. Their first-round pick (No. 7 overall) is protected, but the Sox would lose their second-round pick, which would be among the top 50.
Beyond that, LaRoche would almost surely require a three-year deal to come to Boston.
The Sox have so far avoided free agents linked to draft pick compensation. That could change if they become desperate for a first baseman. For now, working out an agreement with Napoli still appears to be the likely outcome.