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Red Sox lineup a whole lot deeper with Mike Napoli in the middle

Dec 3, 2012, 11:43 AM EDT

Mike Napoli Reuters

Mike Napoli to Boston has long seemed like destiny. That he’s been such a roaring success at Fenway is part of it: Napoli has hit .306/.397/.710 with seven homers in 62 lifetime at-bats in Boston.

The Red Sox initially tried to acquire Napoli in 2010, when the Angels weighed parting with him before the deadline. The Halos kept him then, only to send him to Toronto in the Vernon Wells deal after the season.

Napoli was moved quickly to Texas from there, and he hit 54 homers in his two seasons with the Rangers. Now a free agent for the first time, he’s struck a three-year, $39 million deal to play for the Red Sox. It was an easier price for Boston to pay since the Rangers didn’t make Napoli a $13.3 million qualifying offer, meaning there was no draft pick compensation attached to the signing.

Adding the 31-year-old Napoli presents the Red Sox with possibilities. They now have four catchers in Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway. Napoli, though, wasn’t being viewed as a full-time option behind the plate by Boston or anyone else. He’s always struggled to stay healthy as a catcher, and some feel he might perform even better offensively if his time behind the plate is limited.

As things stand now, Napoli will see the vast majority of his time at first base. If Salty is traded, then perhaps Napoli will catch two or three times per week. If not, then Napoli may do most of his catching in NL parks when the Red Sox put David Ortiz at first base.

With Napoli in the fold, the Red Sox are currently looking at the following lineup:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Mike Napoli
LF Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava
3B Will Middlebrooks
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia/David Ross
RF Ryan Kalish
SS Jose Iglesias/Pedro Ciriaco

It’s a given that they’ll add a starting outfielder, which would likely leave Gomes, Nava and Kalish to battle for time in one spot. They could also sign Stephen Drew for shortstop, but if they don’t get him, they’ll probably give Iglesias a shot rather than turn to an Alex Gonzalez-type free agent.

Napoli may not be the ideal cleanup man, given that he’s likely to hit closer to last year’s .227 mark than his .320 average from 2011. Still, his power numbers should be very impressive if playing first base allows him to get 500 at-bats for the first time. His career average puts him at 32 homers per 500 at-bats.

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