Mike Napoli signing a good first step for rebuilding Red Sox

Mike Napoli is a .306/.397/.710 hitter with seven homers over 17 games at Fenway.

The rebuilding Boston Red Sox made a step in the right direction by acquiring Mike Napoli for three years and $39 million.

Boston’s front office targeted the former Ranger weeks ago and wasted no time sealing the deal with him on the first day of baseball’s winter meetings. It’s easy to see why they coveted him so badly; Napoli is affordable and one of the best right-handed power hitters in the game. Since 2008, he’s socked at least 20 home runs each season while slugging .522 and posting a robust .257 ISO. Over that span, he owns the third-highest HR/AB ratio behind only Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has played more than 114 games just once (in 2010–his last year with the Los Angeles Angels), but moving from catcher to first base should help keep his bat in the lineup.

Expect the 2012 All-Star to continue producing strong numbers in Boston, where he can take advantage of Fenway Park. He’s a .306/.397/.710 hitter with seven long balls in his 17 games there and will enjoy taking aim at the Green Monster for the next several seasons. Surprisingly, the Red Sox have lacked a legitimate righty slugger since Jason Bay helped lead them to their most recent postseason appearance in 2009 (Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis don’t count). Boston’s lineup has become too lefty-dominant in recent years, but Napoli will provide balance.

More importantly, this deal fills the void at first base created by the megatrade that sent Adrian GonzalezJosh BeckettCarl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer and shed more than $260 million in future salary commitments. It’s good to see GM Ben Cherington put some of that freed-up salary to good use. He’s already re-signed David Ortiz and brought in Jonny Gomes and David Ross, all on two-year deals. Cherington’s aversion to long-term contracts makes the Red Sox unlikely candidates to sign either Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke, both of whom expect to receive lengthy nine-figure contracts.

That’s okay. Cherington has repeatedly stressed the need for more discipline, and so far he’s practiced what he preached. His next moves should be shore up the outfield by bringing back Cody Ross and signing Nick Swisher. Both are hard-hitting outfielders who double as positive clubhouse presences.

After the dysfunctional season Boston just had, this team could certainly use a few of those.

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