Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has been very measured on the topic of re-signing Stephen Drew since October’s improbable run to history.
In short, the GM likes Drew, which is a large part of why he made him a $14.1 million qualifying offer. The compensation pick Boston would receive if the shortstop left in free agency didn’t hurt the rationale either.
But, he also has a young, hungry, uber-talented, semi-proven prospect waiting in Xander Bogaerts. In fact, MLB.com’s 2014 Prospect Watch ranked Bogaerts as the second-highest up-and-comer in the game. This after the 21-year-old rose from being a Double-A shortstop to starting third base duties on a World Series champion in about half a season. And, make no mistake, Cherington’s well aware that Bogaerts, while capable, isn’t a corner infielder by trade.
Cherington and the Red Sox don’t need Drew.
Yet, it seems inevitable we’ll see the eight-year veteran don a ‘B’ on his cap again.
It’s February 5. Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Fort Myers in 10 days. As the weeks have passed and the champagne has dried up, Drew still hasn’t found a home.
That could be attributed to any number of things. Perhaps Drew’s rumored suitors over the last several weeks determined his addition wasn’t worth sacrificing a draft pick. Maybe he had opportunities, but none to the liking of super-agent Scott Boras. It’s also entirely possible, even likely, that Boras just misjudged his client’s value on the open market. It happened after the 2008 season with longtime Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek, who ultimately returned on a two-year, $8 million deal after he could have earned more for one year in arbitration.
Now, barring a team deciding it is in dire need of a starting shortstop with sure-handed defense and inconsistent offensive production, Drew has nowhere to go and no leverage with his former team.
It would come as no surprise if Cherington brought Drew back as a luxury. Boston manager John Farrell has spoken glowingly of his former player at every chance throughout the offseason, and he stuck with him almost to a fault in the face of immense scrutiny when Drew’s bat went cold in the postseason. Should he return, he could provide depth on a left side of the infield where none currently exists – unless you’re banking on the modest-hitting Jonathan Herrera. All the better, Cherington could probably do so without having to match the qualifying offer Drew previously rejected.
The benefit of Drew’s return – and this is coming from someone who has called for his benching and subsequent exile – is that element of depth. I’m a believer in the tandem of Bogaerts at short and Will Middlebrooks at third, but there’s no certainty in what to expect from either offensively in 2014.
Bogaerts shined in very limited action – hitting .268 with seven extra-base hits and a .780 OPS in 30 combined regular season and playoff games last year – and his ceiling is up beyond the clouds. In the same breath, raw potential aside, he’s only 21 with 84 career plate appearances under his belt.
Middlebrooks is a relative mystery entering his third big league season. The 25-year-old has spent considerable time in the minors over each of the last two years, and he was benched in last year’s ALCS against the Tigers. Middlebrooks can drive the ball (32 homers, 34 doubles in 640 career at-bats) but his slash line dropped from .288/.325/.509 as a rookie to .227/.271/.425 in his sophomore effort. There’s no telling which direction that will go.
Re-signing Drew would either signal a lack of faith in one of those two youngsters to live up to expectations, or invite a pair of different scenarios:
The Red Sox could opt, despite enormous criticism, to start Bogaerts in Triple-A Pawtucket in an effort to get him more seasoning. The team does project to have a young lineup with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, so another veteran in the starting nine never hurts.
Or, Middlebrooks – and his tabloid offseason – could be trade bait. His departure would open the door for Drew to return at short and Bogaerts to shift to third, just as we witnessed in the playoffs.
I’m actually inclined to lean toward the latter, if there’s any truth to an ESPN report on Monday that suggested the Red Sox have made Drew a two-year contract offer. After starting throughout last year and doing so with relative success to the tune of a .253 average, 13 homers, and 67 RBI in 124 games before his playoff futility, the 30-year-old vet wouldn’t return for multiple years in a utility role, nor should he.
WFAN talk show host Mike Francesa kept the Drew news cycle alive on Tuesday when he reported the Mets’ interest in the shortstop. According to Francesa, Drew has an offer from New York, though the terms are not known. That was quickly refuted by WEEI’s Rob Bradford, which comes as no surprise since Mets GM Sandy Alderson said only last week that it was “unlikely” his club would make such a move.
Whether or not Drew does actually have an offer from the Red Sox in hand at this moment, I believe he will. At this point, between his lack of options and the choices it would provide Boston, it just seems to make sense.
Even if the first question upon Drew’s return would be, “Why?”
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Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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