By Ted Gay – @TedG63
This week temperatures rose above freezing, and there was a touch of spring in the air. Somewhere, far off, the birds sang: “Party at Napoli’s.”
The Red Sox continue to negotiate with a seemingly disinterested J.D. Martinez. Their back up plan, Logan Morrison, would given Boston a platoon of two left-handed first basemen, collectively known as Moreland and Morrison, which sounds more like a cheap law firm than a power hitting corner infield duo.
Still waiting, at the bottom of the free agent pool, is a power-hitting first baseman, with a Red Sox World Series ring, who came within an inning of getting a second one after he was discarded by Boston in 2015, and in 2017 at the age of 35, hit 29 home runs, which would have lead the 2017 Red Sox, knocked in 66 runs, which would have placed him fourth on the team, and had a slugging percentage of .428 which was one point lower than Hanley Ramirez. His name is Mike Napoli.
Mike Napoli has never been about stats. Napoli can provide Boston what they most urgently need: A clubhouse leader.
It was expected, by the often clueless mainstream Boston sports media, that Dustin Pedroia would assume David Ortiz’s role as leader because of his veteran status and skill level. But those two traits do not equal a leader. Pedroia showed he was not ready for that role during the foolish drama between Manny Machado and the Red Sox. After a weekend of high heeled slides and hit batsmen, Machado was again plunked with a pitch. Pedroia let the Orioles dugout know “That is them, not me.” A leader knows there is no them or me on a team there is only an us. Pedroia failed his first leadership test and never recovered.
In 2015, during an interview on WEEI, Napoli stated that the difference between the 2013 Sox and the 2015 team was that in 2013 they were veterans who knew how to win and in 2015 the team was filled with young players trying to prove themselves. Individual performance trumped winning. That attitude is still prevalent in the Sox clubhouse. While the removal of John Farrell, who gave up on several young players who did not prove themselves, should help cleanse that attitude from the clubhouse, Alex Cora is going to need help changing the culture.
Mike Napoli, first and foremost, is a winner. He has made the playoffs eight times in his twelve seasons including three World Series trips. He is beloved by the fans. Often last year, for whatever reason, the Red Sox were called unlikeable. Adding a bearded giant happy to party with fans will change that instantly. Most importantly is his clubhouse influence. On the cusp of the 2016 World Series former Sox John Lackey, Jon Lester and David Ross informed their teammates that Napoli’s presence on the Indians was the biggest threat to the Cubs ending baseball’s longest streak. The Cubs three referred to the Red Sox clubhouse as a “zoo” before Napoli arrived. He unified the team into a group of underachievers who won a World Series. Legendary curmudgeon Lackey referred to Napoli as a “gamer, great teammate, and just a good dude,” three attributes the young Sox desperately need right now.
Yes, Napoli has a considerable downside. He only hit .190 last year, he has a negative WAR, is not a great fielder and is slow. But he is not being brought in as an everyday player. He would give the Sox a righty/lefty platoon with Moreland at first base and provide power off the bench. Most of all he would show a group of young players how to stop competing against one another for playing time and start competing as a team.
After sending Napoli away so Travis Shaw, who would lose Farrell’s trust within the year, could play first, and to open positions for clubhouse killers Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, it is time to rectify a devastating mistake.
Let’s bring Napoli back for one year, six million dollars, to add pop to the lineup and to add stability to the clubhouse.
Once again it is time for Red Sox Nation to party at Napoli’s.
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