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Boston - Mike Napoli showed the Boston Red Sox he could have a strong season despite a hip condition that delayed his signing a year ago.
So they rushed to re-sign the first baseman who general manager Ben Cherington described Friday as "a unique player."
The World Series champions finalized a $32 million, two-year agreement Thursday with the slugging former catcher who turned into a surprisingly good defender.
"It was clearly one of our priorities," Cherington said in a conference call. "When we pursued Mike last year and ultimately signed him we did that because we felt like his skill set would obviously help us on the field and we also heard a lot about his reputation as a teammate."
After agreeing to a $39 million, three-year contract last December, the Red Sox heard about his avascular necrosis condition in both hips that can cause bone tissue to die because of poor blood supply. About six weeks later, in late January, a $5 million, one-year deal was reached. With performance bonuses, Napoli ended up making $13 million.
His new contract has no provisions protecting the team against hip problems, Cherington said.
The 32-year-old Napoli was eager to return to the city he excited with his homers and bushy beard.
"After going through what I went through last year, it was definitely a relief to just go through this," he said. "I'm happy to be back. I wanted to be in a place where I was comfortable and somewhere where we can win."
Fears about his hips were unfounded, at least for last season. The eight-year veteran had career highs in at bats, run, hits, doubles, RBIs, walks and strikeouts and made just six errors in his first full season as a first baseman.
He also had a good time bonding with his beard-tugging teammates.
"As a player, it's probably the best time I've ever had being around a group of guys," Napoli said. "It was a lot of fun going to the park every day, seeing those guys, trying to see what was going to happen that day, see how we were going to mess around with each other."
With fellow newcomers Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and David Ross, Napoli was part of a tight-knit group that changed the clubhouse culture from the previous year.
"Having spent several months around him, it became very clear that he was not just an important part of the team on the field," Cherington said, "but, really, a particularly important guy in the clubhouse. Really, a lot of things that Mike does as a player and as a teammate are things that we believe in strongly. He's accountable. He's responsible. He's prepared."
Napoli said other teams were interested in signing him. He had been comfortable the previous two seasons in Texas but told his agent he wanted to stay in Boston.
He batted .259 with 23 home runs and 92 RBIs then hit two key solo homers in the AL championship series against Detroit - in a 1-0 win in Game 3 and a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Red Sox won that series in six games.
In the postseason, Napoli drove in seven runs as Boston also beat Tampa Bay in the division series and St. Louis in the World Series.
"We're confident that Mike is healthy," Cherington said, "and we feel that he's going to be a great part of our team for the next couple of years and, hopefully, beyond."
Napoli just wants to get started on his second season with Boston after winning the World Series in his first.
"After going through this and being able to sit down and realize what happened for me, it makes me hungry," Napoli said. "I can't wait to get back on the field, be with my teammates again, and try to do it again."