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The curious case of Mike Napoli

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  December 19, 2012 08:50 AM

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Has anyone seen Mike Napoli?

Ever since signing a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox earlier this month, the former Texas Rangers slugger has gone all Craig Grebeck, vanishing with little explanation or insight from the club. Do the Red Sox have a first baseman or not?

Napoli, who has had hip issues, is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, yet wrangled $13 million per out of Ben Cherington, only to have some red marks discovered during his physical with the team. Maybe. We think.

The thought is the Red Sox are now negotiating with Napoli on a contract with reduced years. Possibly.

Nobody’s talking.

Cherington declined to address the situation at last week’s press conference to introduce Shane Victorino. Napoli does not have any reference to his new team on his Twitter account, unless the following is some sort of brilliant code.

Hmm.

“I understand the question,” Cherington said at last week’s press conference. “It’s a situation where we’re working through some things in regard to the player. Until every aspect of agreement is resolved, we’re not in position to comment publicly or announce anything. We’re still working through some issues. That’s all I can say at this point.”

That’s all that has been said to this point.

Aside from Koji Uehara, of all the moves Cherington has made this offseason, the Napoli one was probably the most applauded by Red Sox fans. Yes, they overpaid, but Napoli’s $13 million doesn’t look so bad when you consider Stephen Drew’s $9.5 million, and his swing seems perfectly suited to do damage at Fenway Park.

But, what a mess.

The fact that the Red Sox haven’t walked away from the deal is probably encouraging, and look, give them credit for doing the due diligence rather than get burned on more dead money wrapped up in an injured player. But what exactly is the holdup? If Napoli doesn’t want to take two years instead of three, isn’t the deal ostensibly dead? Or is Napoli insisting on a second medical opinion? Or is this all just one more jumbled chapter for the vaunted Red Sox medical staff?

Or are the Red Sox waiting for a visit from Nick Swisher before making certain they’re tied into Napoli?

If the deal falls through, it’s bad news for Napoli, obviously surrendering $39 million, but he’ll also have to deal with every other team on the market using his medical records against him in negotiations. Plus, he’s been in agreement with Boston for two weeks now. How many other teams have already spent to their limit or signed another first baseman/catcher/DH type? Napoli’s once-decent free agent market could suddenly filter into non-existent.

For that reason, the Sox probably know that they have the slugger backed into a corner. In the end, the two years may be the best he can do, considering the situation. Maybe the team will add a third, performance-based year to the contract, which doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

Maybe Mike Napoli will go on the disabled list on May 15 and the Sox will kick themselves for not moving in another direction.

Maybe, but who knows? In this case, that would be nobody.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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