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Healthy Napoli hopes to return to Red Sox

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  September 12, 2013 06:51 PM

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The game hasn't started yet here at Tropicana Field. But Mike Napoli has already had a productive day.

Today marks Napoli’s 165th day on the roster and that guarantees him the entire $8 million incentive package that was built into his contract in January.

Napoli initially agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox in December. The team backed away from that agreement after a physical found that Napoli had a degenerative condition in his hips.

The sides agreed to a one-year contract worth $5 million with incentives based on time on the active roster or plate appearance. Napoli had already earned $6 million. Today pushed him to $8 million in incentives for $13 million total.

“I was always confident. I never felt anything in my hips,” Napoli said before the Red Sox played the Tampa Bay Rays. “I just took the necessary steps. I’ve been in the training room a lot, doing all my work, working out.”

The condition in his hips, avascular necrosis, was controlled by medication. According to Napoli, the two MRIs he had during the season showed no progress by the disease.

“The MRIs showed that it’s been under control and stayed exactly the same. It’s what we wanted to happen,” Napoli said. “I think the medicine has something to do with it."

Tonight will be the 129th game Napoli has played in, 11 shy of his career best. He has 534 plate appearances, the most of his career. Napoli also has been productive. He is hitting .260 with an .836 OPS. He had 36 doubles, 21 home runs and 87 RBIs.

Napoli also leads the majors with 4.58 pitches per plate appearance. That has helped lead to 174 strikeouts, three shy of tying the team record. But the Red Sox accept the strikeouts because of everything else Napoli adds.

"I think he's had an outstanding season when you consider when you consider the numbers he's putting up," manager John Farrell said."The one thing that we've seen throughout the course of the year is that when we give him some periodic rest, he stays fresh and extremely productive.

"He embodies everything that we value as far as a hitter," Farrell said. "He cares about what he does on the field. He's very conscientious. He works his tail off. He's had probably every bit of the year we would hope when we signed him."

Napoli will be a free agent after the season and should command a multi-year deal given his apparent health and production.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll have to go through the whole MRI process and do all of that stuff again. But everything has looked good and I’m confident that teams aren’t going to shy away,” Napoli said.

“I’d love to stay [with the Red Sox]. I love this group of guys and there’s a lot of guys coming back. This is a special group and bringing back the guys like this, they’re going to be able to win for a couple of years.”

That the Red Sox are most familiar with Napoli could help that process.

“They know how I work. It’s in front of everybody. They see the MRIs,” he said. “When that time come, we’ll probably try to pursue something. But right now we’re just worried about winning and taking care of this year.”

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