With Adam LaRoche returning to the Nationals on a two-year, $24 million deal, the most obvious free-agent fallback plan for the Red Sox should talks with Mike Napoli unravel is no longer available. The development does not come as a surprise to the Sox, however.
All winter, LaRoche seemed determined to get a three-year deal if he was to leave the Nats, the team with whom he enjoyed a tremendous year in 2012, hitting .271/.343/.510/.853 with 33 homers and 100 RBI. That appeared to remain the case all winter, even into January. And, according to multiple major league sources, the Sox simply had no intention of committing three years to the 33-year-old LaRoche, particularly given that he would cost the team not just money but also a second-round draft pick. (LaRoche, as a free agent who received a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer from the team with whom he spent all of 2012, would have required a draft pick as compensation for the Nationals if he signed with a team other than Washington.)
Early in the offseason, the Sox prioritized Napoli over LaRoche. Napoli wouldn’t cost the Sox a draft pick; at 31, he seemed a slightly safer risk for three years (a notion, however, that may be in some jeopardy given that his agreement remains unresolved due to concerns that emerged when he underwent his physical). And while LaRoche clearly had the stronger 2012 season (Napoli hit .227/.343/.469/.812 with 24 homers in 108 games in 2012), Napoli enjoyed the stronger career marks, with a .259/.356/.507/.863 line, compared to LaRoche’s totals of .268/.338/.482/.820.
And while Napoli and the Sox continue to try to find common ground in the aftermath of the physical, likely altering the original terms of the deal, it would appear that he remained the Sox’ clear priority even with the health concerns that he now presents. In other words, trepidation about the status of talks with Napoli wasn’t going to compel the Sox to reach an agreement with LaRoche on terms that the club deemed undesirable.