Adam LaRoche was one thing — the Boston Red Sox didn’t want to sign him to a three-year free-agent contract and forfeit their second-round draft pick as compensation.
But, as the Red Sox enter Day 40 of their standoff with free-agent catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli, why wouldn’t they want to trade for the Washington Nationals’ Mike Morse?
The Sox, sources say, are one of the clubs in contact with the Nationals about Morse, who became expendable this week when the Nats re-signed LaRoche to a two-year, $24 million deal.
While the Sox’s public position is that they continue to talk with Napoli, they can back off him the moment they add another first baseman. They are not obligated to Napoli because they have yet to finalize his three-year, $39 million agreement.
Morse, 30, would require less of a financial commitment than Napoli, 31 – he is under contract for $7 million next season before becoming eligible for free agency. He is resistant to becoming a DH, sources say, but that would not be a problem for the Sox, who would use him at first and David Ortiz as their full-time DH.
To get Morse, the Sox would need to part with young talent and possibly a left-handed reliever — perhaps a high price for a player who only once in his career has appeared in more than 102 games in a season. Then again, the payoff would include keeping Morse away from two interested division rivals — the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.
The prospect of losing Napoli, on the other hand, would not be nearly as daunting to the Red Sox. Napoli remains a free agent, and no other club appears to have made a serious effort to sign him after Sox medical personnel detected an issue with one of his hips in his physical, according to sources.
The Sox, sources say, want to restructure Napoli’s deal with protective language. The four-year, $40 million free-agent contract that the Detroit Tigers awarded catcher Ivan Rodriguez in 2004 could serve as one model.
Rodriguez’s deal stated that if he was on the disabled list for 35 or more days in ’04 or ’05 because of his lower spine, the Tigers could void the rest of the contract by paying him a $5 million buyout. The same provision also existed in ’06, but with a $4 million buyout.
The Sox likely want to rework Napoli’s deal so that if a significant problem arose with his hip, they could escape with something less than a three-year guarantee.
As it turned out, Rodriguez completed his contract with the Tigers without once going on the DL for any condition, and the team even exercised his $13 million option for ’08.
The Sox obviously would hope for a similar outcome with Napoli. But it might be less of a risk to just trade for Morse.
— Ken Rosenthal