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Inbox: Will Napoli fill Red Sox's void at first base?

Will the Red Sox bring back James Loney or do they trust Mauro Gomez at first?
-- Matthew W., St. Peters, Mo.

I think the Red Sox are looking for someone with a more productive bat than Loney and a better glove than Gomez. Mike Napoli, who has been a catcher for most of his career, is probably the man the Red Sox are eyeing the most to play first base. He has a big bat that is perfectly suited for Fenway. The question is how comfortable Napoli can become at first base, where he has played a little, but not a ton, during his career. The team has already had one face-to-face meeting with Napoli, so that speaks of their interest in him.

Can we realistically expect to contend next season, or is it going to be a season of putting together the pieces to be a viable contender for following seasons?
-- Edison R., Tucson, Ariz.

If there's one thing that baseball fans have learned in recent years, it's that it's truly unsafe to predict who the contenders are going to be before the season starts. Who could have guessed the Tampa Bay Rays would make it to the World Series in 2008? Who would have predicted what the Orioles and Athletics were going to do in 2012? In recent years, prognosticators have loved the Red Sox on paper and they haven't lived up to it. Maybe this is the year the Red Sox will go in to a season with little to no hype and surprise people.

With a lineup weaker than usual, what is the plan with Jose Iglesias, knowing that his fielding is unmatched, but his bat has been very questionable?
-- Stratford, Conn.

You are making the assumption that the lineup will be weaker than usual. If that is indeed the case, I don't think they will be able to afford playing Iglesias at shortstop every day. However, if the team adds some key bats to strengthen the offense, they might be able to put Iglesias at short, knowing that he is an elite defender.

With the talk of Iglesias not being ready at SS, what is the dilemma in giving the spot full-time to Pedro Ciriaco if they Sox don't deal for, let's say Stephen Drew or Asdrubal Cabrera? He showed everyone last year he was ready. He hit well, is clutch and has the defensive ability to hold the fort down at SS.
-- Dean M., Nashville

Ciriaco strikes me as the type of guy who excels in a utility role, but will be exposed if you play him every day. He adds much more value to the team being able to play different positions, not to mention pinch-running. While playing every day in September, Ciriaco hit just .217.

Where do you think prospect Jerry Sands will start the season with the Sox? Can he fill the void at first and the outfield?
-- Scott G., Zebulon, N.C.

The Red Sox would be thrilled if Sands progressed to that point and forced his way into the lineup. He has put up big numbers at Triple-A for the Dodgers. However, he's yet to prove that he can hit Major League pitching, so the Red Sox probably can't count on him for too much until they at least get a chance to watch him every day in Spring Training.

David Ross just signed a two-year contract with the Red Sox. What is the possibility of having three catchers on the Red Sox roster? And could there be a chance of the Red Sox having four catchers on the roster with the possible signing of Mike Napoli?
-- Newton, N.H.

I'm not sure that having three catchers on the roster is the best use of space. It would be different if Boston didn't have an elite designated hitter like David Ortiz. Under that scenario, the extra catcher could spend a lot of time in the DH role. I'm guessing that either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway will be moved this winter. Either that, or there's the possibility of just optioning Lavarnway back to Pawtucket. If Napoli is signed, I'm guessing his primary position will be first base.

What are the chances that the Red Sox keep Daniel Nava?
-- Rick M., Rhode Island

I think there's a decent chance Nava will stick as a backup outfielder in 2013. Before he injured his wrist, Nava was a very effective hitter and on-base presence for the Red Sox and he improved his defense dramatically. Also, Nava is very cheap due to his lack of service time.

Why all the Josh Hamilton talk? Wasn't the point of the Dodgers trade to dump long huge contracts? How would signing Hamilton be different than Carl Crawford, and we know Crawford didn't work out too well.
-- Michael K., West Tisbury, Mass.

Hamilton is the biggest name on the market, so it's only natural there will be some rumors that associate him with the Red Sox. I'd say there's only a very outside chance Boston could land Hamilton, and that's if the price drops considerably. Also, I don't think it's fair that you lump him in with Crawford. They are two very different players with different personalities.

Boston Red Sox, Pedro Ciriaco, Mauro Gomez, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, David Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jerry Sands