So far, he has been their most valuable player.
Daniel Nava won't win any sort of hardware for earning the title of offseason MVP. Earning honors for your exploits between April and October usually lead to more formal recognition. But don't think for a minute that some very important people haven't taken notice of Nava's contributions thus far this month.
"He is," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, "a popular guy in baseball."
Nava's importance throughout '13 wasn't difficult to decipher. This was a guy who carried the third-best OPS on the Red Sox (.831), while finishing as one of just 12 American League hitters to hit .300 or better (.302).
The outfielder's popularity also is built on a relentless approach in the batter's box, where he sees an average of 4.11 pitches per plate appearance.
It just keeps on going.
The switch-hitter started games in seven different spots in the batting order, including nine in the leadoff spot (we'll get to that later). The combination of extended at-bats and the ability to hit from both sides of the plate was consistently key in John Farrell's lineup construction, with the manager routinely preferring to place Nava in the middle of any free-swingers, helping eliminate shorter innings.
And just for good measure, he made just over $500,000 last season and still wont be eligible for arbitration until after '14.
Those are some of the reasons for his popularity throughout the majors. They also are the reasons that will almost certainly lead the Red Sox to stiff-arming any sort of trade proposal extended by another team.
But Nava's offseason MVP status has less to do with the talent he can help the team procure through leaving than it does the players he might help secure by staying.
"He's a key guy, because his value is above his raw offensive numbers, because of what you're saying," Cherington said when asked if Nava's versatility has aided the Red Sox' offseason plans. "John [Farrell] and I both feel he's a very important guy for our team."
So, why has Nava all of a sudden become the be-all, end-all? He is allowing the Red Sox to hit the team-building season free and unfettered.
Think Kevin Youkilis prior to the '11 season. The Red Sox could re-sign Adrian Beltre and keep Youkilis at first base. But if an opportunity to acquire such a player as Adrian Gonzalez came about (which it did), Youkilis could move back over to the position he left behind in the early days of his major league career, third base. They weren't locked in then, and, in large thanks to Nava, they aren't locked in now.
For example, let's look at the Red Sox' interest in Carlos Beltran.
How could the Red Sox target a player like Beltran to help replace the offensive numbers of Jacoby Ellsbury if the free agent center fielder leaves? First of all, with Shane Victorino at the ready to play center, the positional jumble wouldn't seem to be an issue. Concerns about Beltran's ability to play right field in Fenway Park on a regular basis might be tempered by the player originally purchased for a dollar. Nava emerged (seemingly out of nowhere) as a viable Fenway right fielder, playing more games in right (69) then he did in left (63) after previously totaling four games at the position prior to '13.
Nava isn't buying the hype. The Red Sox, on the other hand, are, and that's what counts.
"I feel like I can do better. I wasn't happy with how things turned out for me defensively. I know it was a step in the right direction, but, still, I held myself to a high standard," he said last week from his California home. "From last year it was an easy thing to improve on because the bar was so low. But next year I really want to keep going in that direction of improving, knowing swings, knowing our pitchers. That stuff really helps in terms of getting those extra steps."
Added Nava: "I felt this year was definitely more of a challenge for me overall just because of the nature of the different positions I was playing in. It was a challenge for me because I felt I had to be in the right position."
Also, consider this: You could stick Beltran in the middle of the Sox batting order without fear of living life without a leadoff hitter thanks to, you guessed it, Nava.
"We have a number of guys who have a history of getting on base either at the major league level or the minor league level. If that's the No. 1 criteria for that spot, which I believe it is, and John believes it is, I think we have some guys that can handle that, or a combination of guys that can handle that if they need to," Cherington said. "The leadoff prototype has on-base and speed and power all combined, and those guys that have all of those things are hard to find. I'm not sure we have one guy that has all of those things, or has proven they have all those things at the major league level, but if we're getting on base at the top of the lineup and we do a good enough job building depth in the lineup, then we'll have a chance to score runs."
Or how about not having to get into a bidding war to bring back free agent first baseman Mike Napoli?
There is no question the Red Sox value a return by Napoli. But the team also can sleep easy knowing it doesn't necessarily have to make a panicky move into a weak free agent first base market, or surrender players in some sort of deal. Not only do the Sox have a viable alternative in Mike Carp (who is also drawing significant interest from teams hungry for a power-hitting first baseman), they also have Nava.
Having not manned first since his days in junior college, Nava handled himself adequately when placed in the position in spring training. He finished '13 having played first for 86 2/3 innings, having at one point surpassed Carp on the defensive depth chart.
There is a ways to go, but the starting point would be no further away than from where Napoli began last February.
"I think I have a lot of work to do, personally," Nava said. "They obviously felt comfortable enough to have me out there, which encourages me to give myself a little more credit than I'm willing to give myself. When you're only exposed to a limited amount, there's a lot of things that don't happen that over a long haul may expose you more. I personally think I need a lot more experience to get to the level I want to be at. But I understand it was trial by fire, so maybe in spring training I'll get more."
When asked if he found himself with the same mindset Napoli admitted to once possessing -- not wanting the ball hit at him while playing first -- Nava answered honestly.
"There is that element where a ball hasn't been hit at me in a situation I don't know what to expect. Outfield I've seen it all, so I don't worry about it. But first base is still kind of new," he said. "I talked to Lyle Overbay and asked him if you ever get over it. He said, 'Sometimes yes, but there are some times you never get over it.' I asked him when that was and he said, 'When you're holding a runner at first and you have a guy like Chris Davis up. That's a terribly uncomfortable feeling.' Then my very first start at first was in spring training against Baltimore. That is not a comfortable situation. There were definitely times this year I did not want a ball hit at me because I felt like I was about to be crushed by it."
No plans have been hatched, but Nava is at the ready.
"They haven't really communicated anything to me," he said. "They have a lot bigger fish to fry in the offseason then how many games I'm going to play next year or what their plans are for me at first base."
It's nice to have options, however, and, thanks in part to the guy who was almost out of baseball two years ago, the Red Sox seemingly have plenty of them.