Stephen Drew, Family Ties, And Old Wounds

Thearon W. Henderson

The acquisition of Stephen Drew comes with a fair bit of baggage in Boston, but is Stephen to blame for that, or his brother J.D. and an old well of overblown hatred?

It didn't take long for the snickering to start. As soon as news broke that the Red Sox would be signing Stephen Drew to a one-year, $9.5 million contract, that old popular sentiment that had lay dormant for a year began stirring.

Because, of course, Stephen Drew is J.D. Drew's brother, J.D. Drew is terrible, and thus Stephen Drew is terrible.

That, at least, seems to be the argument. Actually, it's a bit generous to call that an argument. It can be thrown away quickly enough based on any number of reasons. Let's just go ahead and throw some against the wall here.

1) Brothers are not the same people.

It's a startling scientific discovery--really breaking edge stuff, I know--but it turns out that brothers are separate individuals. Did you know, for instance, that J.D. Drew was born in 1975 and Stephen Drew in 1983? Shocking, right?

It shouldn't really need to be said, but there's a long list of players in baseball who played very differently from their brothers. Adam LaRoche's career has been rather more successful than Andy's, Jason Giambi has 429 career homers while Jeremy (oh, God, Jeremy...) has 52. Jared Weaver is a Cy Young candidate type of pitcher while having Jeff Weaver in your rotation was only a good thing in 2002.

Again, it really shouldn't need to be said, but "I didn't like his brother on the team" is not analysis. It's not an argument. It's just useless prejudice.

2) We should wish #1 wasn't true.

Because for all the hate J.D. Drew has received in Boston, he was actually really good with the team for the most part. It's an argument I didn't think we'd be revisiting a year after Drew's retirement, but here we are.

In his five years with the Red Sox, Drew hit .264/.370/.455, providing a 114 OPS+ to the Sox, meaning he was 14% more productive than the average right fielder, while providing above-average defense for them at a position that is not easy to play in Fenway Park (UZR has him as an average of four runs better than average per year in his time here). Trot Nixon, for comparison, had a 116 OPS+ in his time in Boston, while Cody Ross last year was good for a 113 mark.

No, Drew didn't exactly exude enthusiasm, but he was never seen to be a clubhouse problem.

3) Stephen Drew's contract is not J.D. Drew's

For all that J.D. Drew was a solid player for the Red Sox in his time here, particularly in his first four seasons, it's easy enough for fans to hate on him because of the $70 million price tag that was attached to him back in the days when players just didn't get that kind of money very often. He didn't live up to expectations until the econd season, and by then the biases of 2007 had set in.

Stephen Drew, on the other hand, is signed for one year and $9.5 million. Is it an overpay based on his last two season? Arguably. But the per annum dollar figure simply isn't important to the Red Sox right now, so to criticize them for overpaying on a one-year deal is to miss the point of this offseason entirely.

If there's one knock you can try to put on Stephen Drew from the list commonly thrown around on J.D., it's that of being an injury risk. I'm not going to talk about any science here--maybe the Drew family is not genetically predisposed to durability, I don't even know enough to know if that's a real thing. One way or another, though, Stephen Drew has only played half of the games in each of his last two seasons, with neither year providing particularly good results.

But that's why you get him on the one year deal. The only risk is to this year's payroll, and frankly, there was nobody else out there. Shortstop is an almost completely barren position in this year's free agency market. What makes Drew stand out from the rest is a history of success when healthy. Given that for the Red Sox it was either sign someone or turn to Jose Iglesias, who hit .118 last year and has yet to perform in Triple-A, this was as good of an outlet for that money as they were going to find without committing to the type of long-term contract they're trying to stay away from, at least for the next few years.

Inevitably if things go poorly for Drew in his time here, the comparisons will be made. Lazy radio hosts with nothing else to do will talk about his lack of passion, health issues, and how shocked they are that the Red Sox got back in bed with another Drew after how awful J.D. was with his .825 OPS and two All-Star worthy seasons.

But the thing about Stephen Drew is that, unlike the rest of the options at the position, there's actually some very real upside. And that's true of all the players the Red Sox have signed (or are in the process of signing) this season. Mike Napoli is one year removed from MVP-level production at the plate, Shane Victorino is a five-win player in his best years, Ryan Dempster has shown the ability to pitch like a #2 even if he's unproven in the American League.

Yes, the Red Sox are taking risks. Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster are old, Stephen Drew is a couple years removed from being really effective, and Mike Napoli has the whole hip thing going on, though that may still submarine his deal. But even if they went out and signed Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton there would be risk, just of a different kind. The team has chosen to play the middle ground, and frankly that's their best way to both try to put together a contender in 2013 and ensure that the future is open to build back up to perennial contention around the farm system in a few year's time. Stephen Drew fits that, even if his name brings back some bad feelings for some fans.

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