On this date in 2003, the Red Sox made one of the best free-agent signings of all time. The story of David Ortiz’s Red Sox career is well-known and often recounted, however. So let’s fast-forward to this date eight years ago when the Red Sox added another pretty good first baseman/designated hitter: Mike Napoli put pen to paper and officially signed a one-year deal worth $5MM guaranteed. The deal was notable because the two sides had previously agreed to a three-year, $39MM contract that fell apart because of concern over the health of Napoli’s hip.
After the failed physical, Napoli briefly flirted with a return to the Texas Rangers, with whom he’d spent the previous two seasons. Napoli had been a significant trade acquisition for the Rangers following the 2010 season, making his one and only All-Star team while helping Texas repeat as American League champions. Though Texas would fall for the second consecutive season in the World Series, Napoli played lights out, slashing .350/.464/.700 in 28 plate appearances with two home runs and 10 runs driven in.
Regardless, the Red Sox had more playing time to offer the former catcher, and he became Boston’s new first basemen with a deal guaranteeing $5MM while still providing a ceiling of $13MM based on incentives. The 31-year-old would take home the full boat, cashing in with 139 games played, 578 plate appearances, and 3.7 rWAR by way of a .259/.360/.482 batting line. He chipped in 23 home runs despite a 32.4 percent strikeout rate.
Napoli was absolutely a contributing factor in the Red Sox turning around a 93-loss team from the season prior, becoming a 97-win juggernaut that rolled past the Rays, Tigers, and Cardinals to win the World Series title. Though Napoli would play in the World Series three times, 2013 was the only time he’d walk away with a ring.
Ultimately, though the hip issue got Napoli’s Boston tenure off to an inauspicious start, the relationship was an unmitigated success, so much so that Napoli re-upped following that 2013 campaign for another two seasons at a $16MM AAV. Ultimately, Napoli earned $45MM over that three-year stretch, well more than the $39MM he would have earned under the original terms of his deal.
These days, Napoli is a Quality Assurance Coach on the staff of one of his former teammates from that 2013 team, David Ross.