Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Drew has had a rough last two seasons, but 2013 should be different
Of all Boston's shiny new free agents with starting jobs, Stephen Drew received the least amount of attention. That's not surprising, with or without context: Mike Napoli was considered a top free agent, and then his re-negotiation process took up considerable bandwidth, and both he and Shane Victorino were originally inked at the media-festival known as the winter meetings. Drew, however, quietly had his option declined by the Athletics at the start of the off-season, subsequently failed to make big waves on the open market, and agreed to a contract with Boston on an early mid-December morning before many fans and journalists were awake to even hear about it.
Drew was owed $10 million on a mutual option for 2013 that went with him from the Diamondbacks to the A's in 2012. Even if the A's had not declined it, chances are good Drew, represented by Scott Boras, might have waived away his portion of the agreement in order to test the open market. While he ended up taking a similar deal with the Red Sox, he was originally looking for a multi-year contract that would exceed his career earnings to that point. With the shortstop market lacking, there was no reason to think he wouldn't get his way, either.
The market surprised, though, and left Drew receiving offers less than what he and Boras perceived him to be worth. Boras pulled out an old trick, directing Drew to a park he knew he could succeed in, one housing a club he would would be amicable to a short-term arrangement, and that's how Stephen Drew: 2013 Red Sox shortstop, became a thing. He might only be in town for one year, but both the Red Sox and Drew stand to benefit from the deal given their respective situations.
Why didn't the rest of the league want to take a shot on Drew? He was asking for an awful lot in terms of both faith and money, considering that he hit all of .238/.313/.373 the last two seasons, and there are questions about his defense given he fractured his ankle in the middle of 2011 and didn't return until mid-season last year. For some teams, they didn't have the $10 million to invest on him, or the hole to fill, or the depth to handle Drew failure, but Boston have and had all of the above. Drew is certainly a risk, but he's a calculated one that the Red Sox can afford to whiff on.
For one, he's a great fit for Fenway Park. Drew, in his career, has gone up the middle quite a bit -- it's the reason Chase Field was so conducive to his swing, as evidenced by 41 of his 52 career triples coming within its walls. Fenway's right field dimensions, in concert with the triangle in right center, could make for a Stephen Drew field day at the plate. While Fenway might not be great for his pull power, much of the rest of the American League East, and thanks to the unbalanced schedule, he'll spend plenty of time in those parks. Well over 100 of Drew's games could come in AL East parks that favor his offensive attributes, and if he's just okay elsewhere, it's going to be hard to notice.
He's left-handed, but he's not all that bad against left-handed pitching. In games with left-handed starters in his career, Drew is a .271/.332/.442 hitter -- he's going to make outs against left-handed specialists late in a game, but against your typical lefties, and the right-handed relievers that follow him, he's managed to keep the overall production up. This is a significant change from 2012 at short for Boston, where Mike Aviles hit southpaws, but against right-handers -- who pitch roughly 75 percent of all innings -- he struggled as he has throughout his career. Even if Drew doesn't bounce back entirely in this regard, it should be a step up for the Sox.
Defensively, there are more legitimate questions. Drew used to have quality range at short, but he's not only going to be 30 in 2013, but also less than two years removed from major ankle surgery. However, there are reasons to think he can help compensate for diminished range a bit, just by utilizing better positioning. He already started to do so in 2012 when he came back from the disabled list, and Red Sox fans who have watched Dustin Pedroia over the years are aware of what excellent positioning can do for your perceived range. Drew might not be a defensive asset, but he shouldn't hurt the Sox in that regard.
A rebound isn't assured, but he's in an environment that should help him thrive, in a lineup where he doesn't have to be a star at the plate, and further removed from his ankle procedure every day. If things go awry, the Red Sox should have some shortstop depth in Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts to take the reins, but chances are good that won't be necessary.