Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
What? You thought the Red Sox were just going to sit at home twiddling their thumbs all winter while the rest of the league got better?
Boston, fresh off its worst season in more than 40 years, came to the Music City ready to spend. General manager Ben Cherington got things going early by locking up former Rangers catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli for three years and $39 million on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings. A day later the Sox ponied up another $39 million for outfielder Shane Victorino, a key player on Philadelphia's championship winning squad in 2008.
Napoli and Victorino are coming off disappointing seasons in 2012 but I have a feeling brighter days are ahead for both players.
I say this because Fenway Park tends to have a rejuvenating effect on hitters (well unless you're Carl Crawford). Baseball's oldest stadium had a 1.206 park factor in 2012, third in the major leagues behind Coors Field in Denver and U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
The ballpark's peculiar dimensions might have a bit to do with that. The Green Monster in left field is a double waiting to happen for righthanded pull- hitters (though there's no official number, Manny Ramirez likely holds the record for most singles off the Green Monster due to lack of hustle). Similarly, balls can roll forever in the triangle out in deep center while the pinball-like arrangement in right is also conducive to extra-base hits. Fenway was the fourth-easiest stadium to triple in during the 2012 campaign.
Cody Ross's revival in 2012 further exemplifies Fenway's healing powers. After a lackluster season with the Giants in 2011 (.240, 14 HR, 52 RBI) Ross rebounded by hitting .267 with 22 HR and 81 RBI in 130 games, his highest power numbers since 2009 (24 HR, 90 RBI in 151 games for Florida).
All of that bodes well for the switch-hitting Victorino. The Hawaii native spent last season playing at two of the league's most pitcher-friendly venues in Citizen's Bank Park (19th in park factor) and Dodger Stadium (25th).
2012 certainly wasn't Victorino's finest year in the big leagues (.255, 11 HR, 55 RBI) but his performance in his three years previous should give the Red Sox reason for optimism. Between 2009 and 2011, Victorino averaged 15 HR and 64 RBI a season with a .277 batting average. His best numbers came during the 2011 campaign (.279, 18 HR, 69 RBI) when Victorino finished ahead of Albert Pujols in the wins above replacement category (5.2 to 5.1).
Even while Victorino was struggling last season, he still managed to find success on the base paths. His 39 swipes on 45 stolen base attempts (a career- high) ranked fourth in the National League.
Victorino is a relative newcomer to Fenway, having played only six games there in his nine seasons in the major leagues. Napoli, on the other hand, has visited Fenway many times throughout his seven seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. In 19 games playing in Beantown, Napoli is hitting .306 with seven homers, 17 RBI and a .710 slugging percentage. During the Rangers' only trip to Fenway in 2012, Napoli exploded for three homers and eight RBI in only three games. He hit .462 for the series.
With James Loney signing with Tampa Bay, Napoli figures to see most of the playing time at first base next season. Obviously Napoli would be an upgrade over Loney (.249, 6 HR, 41 RBI) but he still projects as only a mid-level fantasy first baseman.
The key here is whether or not Napoli can hold onto his catcher eligibility. If Napoli plays enough games behind the plate to qualify, he should be a top- five catcher in fantasy leagues. That's easier said then done though as Boston already has three other capable catchers on its roster (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway).
Catchers require more rest than typical players, which is why Napoli has only averaged 119 games per season since 2009. Basically, the fantasy ceiling for catchers is lower than it is for just about any other position. But if Napoli can maintain eligibility at catcher while playing mostly first base, he'll have a chance to play almost every day, assuming he stays healthy. That gives Napoli an opportunity to post career-highs in every category.
Napoli's 2012 stats leave a lot to be desired (.227, 24 HR, 56 RBI) but a year earlier, he was among the best offensive players in the game. That season Napoli produced career highs in just about every category including 30 jacks and 75 RBI. If he had enough at bats to qualify for the league-lead, his .631 slugging percentage would have led the majors and his 5.3 wins above replacement were the most by any catcher during the 2011 season.
It appears the Sox have found two very worthwhile fantasy players in Napoli and Victorino and odds are, they're not finished. The Red Sox still need to add a shortstop (Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta are reportedly on their radar) and many have speculated that Jacoby Ellsbury could be dealt later this offseason for a top starting pitcher (R.A. Dickey and Cliff Lee have been mentioned).
If there's one thing we've learned from the first three days of the Winter Meetings, it's to never sleep on the Boston Red Sox.
Major business and economic reports scheduled for today:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Investors will have their eye on the government's latest estimate of U.S. economic growth when the Commerce Department releases its report on fourth quarter gross domestic product today.
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