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Sports

December 3, 2012

With Napoli, Sox add needed grit and character

Sox pay more to shorten a deal that makes sense

Mike Napoli has hammered Boston Red Sox pitching during his career, especially over the past couple of seasons.

If you can’t beat him, sign him.

That’s what Red Sox GM Ben Cherington did yesterday, inking the right-handed slugger to a three-year, $39 million deal.

This signing makes sense for both Boston and Napoli, who is projected to be a first baseman who catches occasionally.

Napoli, who turned 31 on Oct. 31, has power to all fields and has been terrific in 62 career regular season at-bats at Fenway, hitting .306 with a .397 on-base percentage, .710 slugging percentage, 1.107 OPS, seven homers, 17 RBIs and four doubles.

Napoli is a patient, selective hitter who works pitchers deep into counts and gets on base. His best season came in 2011, when he belted 30 homers, drove in 75 runs and batted .320 with a .414 on-base percentage, .631 on-base percentage and 1.046 OPS in 113 games.

His numbers dropped last year. He batted just .227 with 24 homers, 56 RBIs and .343 on-base percentage. He played in 108 games, spending time on the DL with a strained left quad muscle.

Napoli has spent the majority of his career at catcher with 485 starts there compared to 118 starts at first base.

Now that he will spend the majority of time at first base and catch less, it wouldn’t be surprising if he posted even better statistics in the coming years. The physical and mental grind of catching daily does take a toll on offensive production.

To get the most production out of Napoli, who hits pretty well against both lefties and righties, the Red Sox must use him the majority of the time at first base.

The Red Sox certainly benefitted because not only did they sign a productive hitter, but they didn’t give a fourth year in which Napoli was hoping to receive.

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