By Jeff Louderback
With the status of Mike Napoli‘s three-year, $39 million contract with the Boston Red Sox still not signed, the club is reportedly talking to the Washington Nationals about Mike Morse, according to multiple media reports.
The 31-year-old Napoli verbally agreed to the deal at the winter meetings in December, but the the Red Sox became concerned after results from the catcher/first baseman’s physical. Though it has not been verified, multiple media reports indicate that the physical showed potential problems with Napoli’s hip.
A tweet from ESPN’s Jim Bowden on Friday revealed that the Red Sox would like to shorten Napoli’s contract to one year.
Morse, who will be 31 on March 22, is a coveted right-handed slugger like Napoli. He can play first base and left field, which is attractive to the Red Sox. Unlike Napoli, who is a free agent, Morse is signed through 2013 and will receive $6,750,000 this season.
Morse became expendable when the Nationals re-signed Adam LaRoche. They have the highly regarded Tyler Moore ready to replace Morse in left field. After a breakout 2011 campaign that saw him belt 31 home runs with 93 RBI, a .303 average and a .910 OPS, Morse slipped to 18 home runs, 62 RBI, a .291 average and a .791 OPS in an injury-shortened 2012 season that limited him to 102 games and 430 plate appearances.
Washington prefers a left-handed reliever and prospects in a package to land Morse. Boston has Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller and Craig Breslow as lefties in the bullpen. The Red Sox would not part with Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley or Matt Barnes to get Morse, but they could be willing to include a top pitching prospects like Allen Webster and an outfielder such as Bryce Brentz or Brandon Jacobs.
Morse is adequate yet unspectacular on defense in left field and first base. Napoli is below average behind the plate and at first base. Though Morse would cost the Red Sox a top left-handed reliever and a few prospects, bringing him aboard would be worthwhile because he will receive around $7.25 million less than Napoli in 2013 (based on Napoli’s $13 million annual salary), which would give Boston more flexibility to add another piece, like a left-hander hitter who can play first base and left field (such as Seattle’s Mike Carp).
Also, though Morse spent time on the disabled list in 2012, he is not prone to injury like Napoli.