Most free agency news fizzled out months ago, but even though the regular season has begun for some teams there are still very useful players out there. Among those remaining free agents is shortstop Stephen Drew, formerly of the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. A combination of injuries, inconsistent play, and contract demands have caused Drew to bounce around the league lately, and he will likely be wearing his fourth different uniform in three seasons. However, Stephen Drew can still bring a lot of value to the table and would fill a need for a several different teams.
Following the greatest generation of shortstop play in Major League Baseball history, the position has fallen back to earth and is now a bit more shallow than it was a decade ago. Derek Jeter is in his last season, Alex Rodriguez is long since a third basemen (as well as currently banished from baseball), and Nomar Garciaparra now announces games on television. The 2000’s even included such fantastic shortstops as MVP winners Miguel Tejada and Jimmy Rollins. The current class of shortstops just don’t bring the same offense to the table, but then again no position in the league does. That has to be considered when establishing the value of players. Stephen Drew brings a very good bat for his position, with the fourth best on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of all shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances in 2013. Even his defensive shortcomings are overrated, as Drew is more-than-adequate in all physical aspects, with good instincts.
There is a rather long list of teams that could be improved at least marginally by Stephen Drew, even considering his recent injury history which is a bit exaggerated. After starting his career by playing in more than 90 percent of his teams games over four full seasons, Drew missed almost a year (encompassing two seasons) because of a broken ankle suffered sliding into home plate. Last season he missed some time at the beginning the of year with a concussion and some time later with a hamstring pull. That is hardly the kind of trend that should earn someone the “injury prone” title, especially when Drew was such a hot hitter after returning from the injury. When considering his salary demands and who has the biggest need, the list of potential teams that Drew would fit is a small one.
The best match would appear to be the New York Mets, who not only are in dire need of a shortstop upgrade but also are on the cusp of having the talent for a playoff push. With the way the Atlanta Braves spring has absolutely ravaged their pitching staff, the Mets have a very good shot at a wild card run. Drew would bring them an upgrade on both offense and defense, and his bat would fit their park well. His power comes in the form of doubles and triples, and is not reliant on the home run–Drew was tied for seventh in baseball in triples in only 501 plate appearances, and has hit 12 in a season on two separate occasions.
The Detroit Tigers had lately seemed like the surest destination for Drew, what with the possibly season-ending injury to Jose Iglesias and the seemingly bottomless pockets of owner Mike Ilitch. That, however, looks to have changed as Detroit just acquired both Alex Gonzalez from Baltimore and Andrew Romine from the Angels to fill the void. On the surface, Detroit has filled their depth chart at shortstop with two potential solutions. Yet, considering that Gonzalez is 37 years old, can no longer hit, and only played three games at shortstop last season, and Romine is a 28 year old minor leaguer with no bat, Detroit may be have Drew on the phone again soon.
After playing on a one year contract last season, Boras and Drew were convinced they would find a friendlier market this season. Unfortunately for Drew, the draft pick that a team must sacrifice is likely hurting his value. The Red Sox stand to gain a compensation draft pick from whatever team chooses to sign Drew for losing their free agent. That pick is likely one of the reasons teams are hesitant to pay what Drew and his agent Scott Boras want. Signing Drew themselves would not cost the Red Sox a draft pick per se, they would be losing out on a pick potentially gained from another team. The weight of not gaining a draft pick is not as much as the weight of losing a pick one already has, so the Red Sox may find themselves interested in bringing Drew back for another season if he can be convinced to take a one year deal again. Drew probably wishes he had accepted the Red Sox one year, $14.1 million qualifying offer during the winter. He will be lucky to make that over the next two seasons, especially if he is not rostered on opening day.
If Drew is still sitting out there come June, when a few more injuries have hit and he will no longer cost the team that signs him a draft pick, expect a few more teams to get in on the race. The Yankees could also be in need of another middle infielder bat by then. Stephen Drew fits a need for several teams, but the nexus of his demands and just what teams are willing to pay has not yet been found.
Commentary by Brian Moore