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The case for not signing Stephen Drew

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  February 19, 2014 08:00 AM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. It makes sense for the Red Sox to sign Stephen Drew.

They could certainly use him given the lack of depth on the left side of the infield. Xander Bogaerts has started only six major league games at shortstop in his career and Will Middlebrooks is a player who lost his job twice last season.

The Sox won the World Series last season with Drew playing shortstop and Bogaerts at third base. There is strong support for using that combination again among many in the Red Sox clubhouse.

The Red Sox are the only team that can sign Drew without losing a draft pick. They also can afford him, especially with Ryan Dempster's $13.25 million off the books.

Drew's .777 OPS was second among American League shortstops last season and he ranked fourth with a 3.1 WAR. He's a very solid player, among the best at his position. It's incorrect to say otherwise. The Mets should have signed him two months ago.

There are plenty of reasons to sign Drew and if the Red Sox do it, you can't blame them. But here is why they shouldn't:

Bogaerts should get the chance to start at shortstop. The Red Sox have been in a constant state of flux at shortstop since they traded Nomar Garciaparra in 2004. In Bogaerts, they have a player who could play there for a decade or more.

Further, they could have an All-Star at that position. Bogaerts can be the American League version of Troy Tulowitzki, a shortstop with a middle-of-the-order bat. The 21-year-old could be the best offensive player at his position in the league this season, that's how good he is.

Bogaerts can add thump to the lineup at third base. But with Evan Longoria, Manny Machado, and Adrian Beltre in the American League, the impact is less. At shortstop, he's a centerpiece player in every way.

If Bogaerts goes to third base, his days at shortstop are done. Now is the time to develop him there. Bogaerts wants very badly to be a shortstop and should get that chance.

The Sox should stick with Middlebrooks. The 25-year-old hit .288 with 15 home runs runs in 267 at-bats as a rookie in 2012, performing so well that he opened the 2013 season hitting fifth.

Middlebrooks was tentative in spring training last season because of the broken wrist he suffered the previous August. He later injured his back in May and was eventually demoted to the minors.

He still managed 17 home runs. Middlebrooks also hit .276 with an .805 OPS and 24 RBIs in his final 41 games after returning from the minors, playing a big role in the team's surge to the postseason.

Middlebrooks has 32 home runs over the last two seasons. Among righthanded hitters, the only younger players with more are Wilin Rosario, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, and Dayan Viciedo. Of that group, Middlebrooks had the fewest at-bats by far.

Righthanded power is hard to find and the Red Sox should not squander that. Signing Drew is throwing up another roadblock for Middlebrooks. His value to the Red Sox is higher than his trade value and it would be a waste to sit him on the bench.

Change is good: The odds are against the Red Sox repeating as World Series champions. But a lineup that includes Bogaerts, Middlebrooks, and Jackie Bradley Jr. brings added energy. Young players with something to prove can fuel a team of veterans. Yes, this is a reason based entirely on a feeling. But the Red Sox factored in intangibles last season with great success.

Get that draft pick: It's not a secondary consideration to get a supplemental first-round pick when Drew signs elsewhere. The single best way to bury the Yankees and Rays is to load up on young talent. New York and Tampa Bay do not have productive farm systems and the wider the Red Sox can make that gap, the better off they will be.

Drew could well make the 2014 Red Sox a better team. But the 2015-2020 Red Sox would benefit more by really seeing what Bogaerts and Middlebrooks can do now.

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