By Jeff Louderback
As David Ortiz told WEEI on Thursday, the Red Sox “need some thunder” in the lineup. As the MLB Winter Meetings open next week, the club continues to search for a right fielder and a first baseman to upgrade the batting order.
The 31-year-old Napoli is a right-handed power hitter who can catch, play first base and serve as a DH. He was limited by leg injuries in 2012, batting just .227 with 24 home runs, 56 RBI and a .812 OPS for the Texas Rangers after slugging 30 home runs for the Rangers in 2011. Napoli is versatile, but his defense behind the plate and at first base is below average.
Multiple media reports indicate that Napoli wants a four-year contract and the Red Sox are not willing to go beyond three years, which is why they are talking to the 33-year-old LaRoche.
Unlike Napoli, who did not receive a qualifying offer, LaRoche would cost the Red Sox their second round pick in next summer’s draft, which will be a top 50 selection. LaRoche, though, won a Gold Glove at first base in 2012, when he belted 33 home runs, drove in 100 runs and recorded a .853 OPS. He consistently hits in the vicinity of 25 home runs a season, and typically knocks in around 85 runs. Over his nine-year Major League career, LaRoche has a .820 OPS.
Napoli would be a useful addition to the Red Sox lineup, but LaRoche would be more beneficial since he is a strong defensive first baseman as well as a proficient run producer. The Red Sox do not have a top first base prospect, so signing either to a three-year deal will not block a minor leaguer, and since the club has payroll flexibility, it can afford the type of annual salary Napoli or LaRoche desire.
The Nationals acquired center fielder Denard Span from Minnesota earlier this week, which could lead them to move Morse to first base if they don’t bring back LaRoche. Washington could opt to re-sign LaRoche and trade Morse. If so, the Red Sox will likely be interested.
The 30-year-old Morse belted 18 home runs in an injury-interrupted 2012 campaign, but he ripped 31 home runs with 95 RBI, a .303 average and a .910 OPS in 2011, his first full season in the majors. The right-handed hitter does not boast the same level of defense that LaRoche provides, but his glove and range are adequate.
As for the right field opening, the Red Sox are still interested in re-signing Cody Ross to a three-year deal, a move that Ortiz endorsed on WEEI because of Ross’ bat, work ethic and likability as a teammate. Ross would cost less than Nick Swisher in terms of annual salary and contract duration, and it would not require that the Red Sox surrender a draft pick.
Shane Victorino, who turned 32 today, is another potential target for Boston’s right field opening. The veteran of nine Major League seasons swiped 39 bases in 2012 between Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he can proficiently play all three outfield spots.
The right-handed hitting Ross or the switch-hitting Victorino would be more ideal than Swisher. The Red Sox could feasibly sign Ross and Victorino since Victorino can play left field and right field, spelling Ross or the right-handed hitting Jonny Gomes when a right-hander is on the mound.