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Napoli takes hometown discount; returns to Red Sox for two years

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Mike Napoli took to Twitter (@MikeNapoli25) to announce "The beard is coming back to Boston!!! Couldn't be happier!!" The posting came complete with a selfie of Napoli sitting on a couch wearing a T-shirt (surprisingly) bearing a bit of a Mona Lisa smile.

WEEI's Rob Bradford was first to break the news that Napoli was coming back. A little while later it was learned that Napoli signed for $32 million over the next two years. A little while after that, it was reported that Napoli turned down more money from the Texas Rangers to stay with Boston. Jon Tomase reported that he had a source that said the Rangers were offering between $39-$42 million over three years.

My first reaction to the Napoli re-signing-- terrific for Boston. Especially coming on the heels of Boston's arch rival New York Yankees reeling from losing their best player, Robinson Cano, earlier in the day. Cano signed a $240 million, ten-year contract with the Seattle Mariners. Yes, the Seattle Mariners outbid the Yankees.

Napoli never should have been a free agent this fall. He signed a three-year contract when he first came to Boston last offseason. But the Red Sox discovered a mysterious hip injury which nullified the original contract and the two sides instead negotiated a one-year, incentive-laden contract. Napoli's hip proved to be fine. Napoli hit 23 home runs and drove in 92 runs. Surprisingly, the former catcher with a "degenerative" hip played a Gold Glove-caliber first base.

Beyond his performance on the field, Napoli reached rock star status among Red Sox fans. On a team full of disheveled beards, Napoli had the biggest and baddest. Napoli will be fondly remembered for prancing around shirtless in series-clinching celebrations-- not only on the field and in the clubhouse at Fenway, but also late night in the streets of Boston.

There is no doubt Napoli loves Boston.

And Boston loves champions.

Had Napoli been a part of the September 2011 Red Sox, he may have been perceived in a different light.

The Red Sox needed Napoli's bat back in their lineup. There simply were no proven power bats available via free agency, especially none that played first base. That's why the Red Sox needed to overpay for Napoli.

And overpay they did. $16 million per year for a hitter who has only hit over .259 three times in eight seasons seems a bit extreme to me.

What the Red Sox like, though, is his ability to work counts and get on base. Despite his .259 career average, Napoli has a respectable career .357 on-base percentage, and an .859 OPS.

On the negative side, oh, those strikeouts. Napoli set a Red Sox franchise record with 187 strikeouts in 2013. In July, Napoli struck out 37 times in 83 at-bats and had fans screaming, "Napoli is a bum. He has to go."

Napoli is as streaky as they come. When he hits homers, he homers in bunches. He will tear off streaks of six homers in four days. Then he will go a month without homering. Those strikeouts will always be there, which can be frustrating with runners on third base and less than two outs.

I have a hard time shaking off the impression of Napoli as a platoon hitter. 2013 was only the second time the 32-year-old has had over 400 at-bats. Napoli crushes left-handed pitching, but struggles against right-handers. Remember all the chatter about pinch-hitting Mike Carp for Napoli late in games? It happened.

The fact is that David Ortiz needs protection in the lineup. Napoli, when he is running good, provides that protection. Daniel Nava or Mike Carp just wouldn't be able to fill Napoli's shoes. Free agents like Michael Morse and Corey Hart carry injury risks, but would have intrigued me.

Bottom line is Napoli loves Boston and Boston needed Napoli. Napoli, in my opinion, is about a $12-$13 million per year (which is what Texas was willing to spend) player, at best. The Red Sox needed to overpay. The new Red Sox philosophy appears to be to overpay for fewer years. It worked once. The Red Sox hope it can work again.

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