Following the 2015 season, perhaps even before the season mercifully comes to an end, the Boston Red Sox will need to replace former catcher turned first baseman Mike Napoli. Napoli was a centerpiece in the Red Sox championship run in 2013, but has since seen a significant decline in production.
While playing most of his career suffering from sleep apnea, Napoli decided to undergo surgery to open the airway in his throat and nose, helping him sleep through the night before showing up to the ballpark fully rested. Following the gruesome procedure, where doctors broke and then realigned his jaw, Napoli said he was feeling better than ever. Everyone assumed, as they rightfully should have, that Napoli would be one of the best hitters in the lineup if not the game. After some of the seasons he has had, it was reasonable to think that the well-rested, party-loving first baseman would live up to the lofty expectations.
Once one of the most feared hitters in the heart of Boston’s lineup, Napoli’s numbers have seen a huge decline this season. While posting a 0.1 WAR this season, Napoli is suffering through career lows in batting average (.204), OBP (.299), SLG% (.393), BABIP (.234), wRC+ (91), and OPS (.692). Napoli still puts up good at-bats at times, ranking among the top in the league in pitches seen per plate appearance, but that alone is not enough to guarantee him a contract extension.
If not the best hitter in the game, Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best there is. And it looks like he is going to stay that way for a long time. After finishing second in the N.L. MVP voting in 2013, the 27-year-old first baseman followed that up with his second All-Star campaign in an injury-shortened 2014 season.
This year the former eighth-round draft pick is at it again. He’s posting numbers that are just out of this world. The slugger is batting .363/.481/.679 with a .316 ISO. His 206 wRC+, 4.1 WAR and 1.160 OPS rank second in baseball behind only Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper.
After five seasons in the big leagues, with steady progression into his prime, Goldschmidt shows no signs of slowing down. He’s maturing as a hitter while posting a career low in K% and a career high in BB%. His 19 home runs through 65 games this year match his total in 109 games last year.
The 6’3″, 245-pound first baseman signed a five-year, $32 million contract in 2014 that will take him through the 2018 season with a team option for 2019. Breaking down the contract, the Texas native is set to make $3 million this season, $5.8 million the next, $8.8 million in 2017, $11 million in 2018, and $14.5 million should the Arizona Diamondbacks elect to pick up his 2019 option.
Arizona came into this season with an Opening Day payroll of $86,286,000, good for 26th in Majors. Goldschmidt may want to stay with the franchise that developed him, but then again, he may not. When he signed the deal in 2013, Goldschmidt had nice words about committing to the D-Backs, noting that he “loves Phoenix.” He also showed that he was a team-first player when he signed the contract in spring training stating, saying, “I’m happy to get it done in spring training so it doesn’t become a distraction.” He will be 30 years old when the contract ends, and if he keeps up with his current pace of play, the free-agent market would easily give him at least an eight-year contract possibly worth anywhere between $200 and $240 million, if not more.
The D-Backs don’t really have the money that Goldschmidt will require to be kept in Arizona unless he gives them a huge hometown discount or does a Max Scherzer deal that is half deferred. Yes, their payroll will grow in the next couple of years, but Goldschmidt is a $25-million-a-year kind of player, money that just doesn’t seem doable for the small market Diamondbacks.
But the Red Sox do have money, and a lot of it. Goldschmidt’s numbers would certainly go up in Fenway, as well, even though he uses all fields when he hits. Over his career, he has pulled 37.1% of batted balls and as we have all seen with right-handed power hitters, they use the Green Monster to their advantage — turning what would be fly balls in a lot of parks into home runs. Remember the 2007 version of Mike Lowell?
With one of the strongest farm systems in all of baseball, the Red Sox could potentially make a trade with the D-Backs. However, it could be tough to come up with a deal, because Arizona has built a strong system themselves. But I would think that the Red Sox could part ways with just about any of their top prospects in exchange for Goldschmidt. You could bundle anyone from left-handed pitchers Henry Owens and Brian Johnson with third baseman Rafael Devers or Cuban superstar Yoan Moncada with Manuel Margot and flame throwing closer Pat Light. Obviously these are just a couple of options as the Red Sox have many young prospects that are highly desirable.
It’s not likely that Goldschmidt gets traded anywhere within the next few seasons; after all, he is still the face of their franchise. He will get fans in the gate and will represent Arizona baseball at the next few All-Star games, but it’s possible that he doesn’t stay in the desert past the remaining years of his contract. And going to Boston could make sense for both teams, and the player, if the price is right.