About three months ago, I wrote that Stephen Drew’s return to the Red Sox was unnecessary but inevitable.
Like the shortstop last October, that’s looking more and more like a big, fat oh’fer.
Okay, OK – he did manage to hit .111 (6-for-54).
The point is, like many, I was certain Boston didn’t need the veteran; certainly not at $14.1 million, had he accepted the qualifying offer. At the time, I felt Xander Bogaerts would be best served to see as much time at short as possible and wouldn’t be a tremendous drop-off defensively, and Will Middlebrooks would prove to be more similar to the hot-hitting rookie in 2012 than the slumping sophomore of 2013.
Like Middlebrooks this year, looking like another oh’fer in the making.
This situation is immensely complicated and the Red Sox must decide sooner than later what their priority is: Winning now or building for the future.
It’s early, just more than a quarter of the way through a 162-game regular season grind. Boston sits fourth in the American League East at an ugly 20-23 and riding its first four-game skid since 2012 but, on the bright side, is only three games back of first-place New York. There won’t be a runaway favorite in this mediocre division; not this year.
There is plenty of time to make up that ground, but a largely inept offense, a lack of timely hitting, poor defense, and inconsistency in the starting rotation has shown the Sox need help. If they don’t act, the deficit could grow in a hurry.
As it turns out, the problem-solver just might be Drew.
Contractually-benched at his home in Georgia since the winter, the left-hitting, defensively reliable vet is available and eager to return to the field after team upon team passed over signing him in the spring because of the draft pick compensation attached to his demands. After next month’s draft (June 5-7), he’ll surely get a job because clubs would no longer owe Boston a selection.
But one team can sign him sooner without worrying about those wrinkles, and that’s always been the one that calls Fenway home. Reportedly, the sides have not spoken.
Drew finished with the second-best fielding percentage among shortstops in the AL last year at .984. Bogaerts currently ranks fifth in the league with a .974 success rate, even behind Derek Jeter’s .975. Important to note, the Aruban sensation does have the support of his general manager.
Drew had a wins-above-replacement of 3.1 a year ago. Middlebrooks, whom he’d be replacing in the lineup with Bogaerts shifting to third base if he returned, has a career WAR of 1.1 in 190 games, including a -0.2 in 21 contests in 2014. In other words, Middlebrooks’ mostly powerless presence in the lineup has not only been of no help, he’s actually hurt the team. He sounded less than confident over the weekend, too, when telling reporters his offense would “hopefully” improve.
And, Drew displayed a .284/.377/.498 slash line with nine home runs and 48 RBI against righthanded pitchers last year. This season, the Red Sox have struggled mightily versus righties with a .240/.321/.365 slash line. That’s 21st in the majors in average, 12th in on-base percentage, and 23rd in slugging. Bogaerts (.243/.333/.340) and Middlebrooks (.143/.276/.286), both righties, have been of very little assistance in that area.
Making matters worse, Middlebrooks has not only stunk when he’s been on the field, he can’t manage to stay healthy. He was just placed on the disabled list for the second time this year – this time with a fractured index finger – and so the parade of Brock Holt, Jonathan Herrera, and whoever should follow is underway again. Garin Cecchini isn’t ready so stay focused, Ryan Roberts. To this point, the Sox have hit .200 with a .592 OPS as a team at third, marking the worst totals in the game.
It hasn’t just been youngsters Bogaerts, Middlebrooks, and Jackie Bradley Jr. faltering at the plate. There isn’t a single .300 hitter on the roster. David Ortiz, at .299, is the only player batting better than .277 (Dustin Pedroia). Offense has been an issue from top to bottom, and you could see it coming from a mile away.
Drew isn’t necessarily the answer, but he does represent an improvement. What matters next is whether the Red Sox want to make strides toward winning now and defending their title, or continue getting the 21-year-old Bogaerts more comfortable at short, evaluating the 25-year-old Middlebrooks whenever he’s healthy again, and hoping the rest of the ship turns around.
Again, it’s complicated. Who would have guessed a guy with the name Drew could be so sorely missed in Boston?
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