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Eventually, Stephen Drew had to find a home. Some team, somewhere was going to be in a position in which they needed one of the better shortstops in the game. Rather surprisingly, it turned out that team happened to be the same one he spent 2013 with.
So, after months of searching for a long-term home, Drew will return to Boston for four months and will look forward to an offseason of true free agency, since he is ineligible for another qualifying offer after this year.
As it turns out for Boston, Drew was apparently the answer all along. Perfectly content to head into this season with youngsters Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third, Red Sox management did very little to show they were serious in bringing back the anchor of their left side of the infield from their World Series-winning team. The future was now.
Because, really, this is exactly what Boston was building for when the team signed Drew to begin with after the 2012 season. With Bogaerts the clear shortstop-in-waiting, Drew was merely a one-year stopgap until the prospect took over this year.
In that one season with the Red Sox, Drew showed New England that he was a solid, reliable shortstop. He hit .253, and provided good power. His 13 home runs were fourth-most in the American League among shortstops, his 29 doubles were sixth, and his eight doubles led the league. And that was all in just 442 at bats, which was far fewer than other leaders. His .443 slugging percentage was third highest, even when including non-qualified batters.
He was even more valuable in the field, playing near-flawless defense. He had just eight errors all year, and his .984 fielding percentage tied him for third among all MLB shortstops.
So Drew did everything he needed to in order to earn another term in Boston, or at the very least secure a nice free agent deal. Unfortunately for him, the Red Sox presented him a qualifying offer, and with agent Scott Boras’s demands for a three- or four-year deal, it was never a realistic consideration that he would accept it.
But it was the draft pick compensation that hung over Drew like a dark cloud. His market never really developed anyway, the draft pick notwithstanding. But the cost of the pick was too much. A one- or two-year contract for Drew may have made sense for some clubs, but they weren’t about to sacrifice a potential future star for a couple seasons of him. Then, the long-term deals that Scott Boras professed to have on the back burner, were likely nothing more than a ploy. So idle Drew sat.
And as set as the Red Sox thought they were on the left side of the infield in March, it has since become apparent it needs work. Bogaerts has shown signs that he will have a long and successful Major League career, but he’s still just 21 and that shows, too, not only at the plate, but in the field as well. In less than two months of work, he already has six errors on the season.
The bigger reason for the need for Drew, though, may be at third. For the second straight year, Middlebrooks entered the season with the third base job. But for the second straight year, he’s squandered the opportunity. In 21 games this season, he’s posted a slash line of .197/.305/.324 with only five extra base hits. He has also now been placed on the disabled list with a fractured finger.
With Drew back in the fold, that means Bogaerts will move to third base as Drew returns to his natural position. It’s a setup that worked just fine in October as the Red Sox marched to a championship. This may turn into another one-season situation, but it could become a longer-term combination, too. There are some who believe Bogaerts’s future is not as a shortstop anyway, and it’s not impossible that this could eventually lead in that direction.
The biggest question mark now is Middlebrooks, who looks destined to return to the minors. There is a sense that the Red Sox are growing impatient with the opportunities he has been given. He could become an attractive trade option and help the team address some other needs. Middlebrooks has the power that would make organizations consider a deal. During his MLB career, he has averaged 29 homers per 162 games.
But the questions surrounding those players’ futures will be answered over time. Right now, Drew comes to Boston with the purpose of improving the team. And he should. Boston is actually among the worst in baseball against right-handed pitching, with just a .240 average and 116 runs. Drew hits right-handers much better, having batted .284 against them last season, while hitting only .196 against lefties.
As much as a need this fills for Boston, it feels a little curious that Drew made the decision to return now. It does give him the chance to reestablish his value as he heads into an offseason of guaranteed free agency, however he may have been able to avoid it.
After the MLB Draft concludes on June 7th, Drew could have signed with any team without penalty to that signing team. That’s a little over two weeks from now. There are more than a couple teams, for instance the Mets, Tigers, and Yankees, who should have been lining up to talk with him. And, if Boras had at least one multi-year deal offered to Drew while he was still carrying the draft pick compensation, surely his value would go up without that baggage and with multiple teams potentially in the fold.
Drew’s decision to resign in Boston seems like a surrendering of sorts, which is not Boras’s M.O. By not accepting the qualifying offer in the offseason, he turned down $14 million. While that is the same value of the deal he just signed, it is pro-rated, meaning he’ll be getting about $10 million. So as it sits now, he is down $4 million. For Boras to have settled for this, he is either extremely confident in his ability to make it back next offseason, and/or the bigger deals he has been promising are non-existent.
The Red Sox, though, aren’t primarily concerned about Drew’s future contracts. Right now, they need him to help their team. Boston is locked in a battle in the tightest division in baseball, and something needed to change before someone else started to pull away. Chances are, it’s not the last move the Red Sox will make. It’s just one they needed now.
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