About a week and a half ago, I heard that a number of people in uniform with the Red Sox still wanted free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew. Those people had nothing against Xander Bogaerts, who is well-respected in the clubhouse. It’s just that they felt that the Sox would be better with Drew at short and Bogaerts at third.
At the time, the Red Sox were not ready to act — they were still committed to Bogaerts at short, unwilling to disrupt his development. But over the weekend, the Sox placed third baseman Will Middlebrooks on the disabled list with a fractured right middle index finger. As the days passed, the team’s stagnant offense only became more problematic.
So, on Tuesday, the Sox finally made their move, re-signing Drew to a one-year, $10 million deal, according to major-league sources. Manager John Farrell said Drew should be ready after about 25 minor-league at-bats, and that Bogaerts then will return to third.
The Sox simply could not wait any longer. Come June 5, after the first day of the amateur draft, Drew could have signed with the Mets, Tigers or any other club without that team forfeiting a draft pick — and without the Sox gaining a compensatory selection between the first and second rounds.
Thus, the competition for Drew stood to increase. The Sox were sputtering along at 20-23, missing Drew’s left-handed bat against right-handed pitching, and their potential return for losing Drew was about to disappear.
Oh, the Sox’s offensive production is down by more than a run per game from last season. Their combined OPS at third ranks 26th in the majors. Bogaerts was minus-three at shortstop, according to John Dewan’s plus-minus defensive ratings, which means he has made three plays below what the average fielder would make at his position.
The Red Sox charted an ambitious, unusual course for a World Series champion, trying to incorporate three 25-and-under players — Bogaerts, Middlebrooks and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. The signing of Drew indicates that they over-reached. But the fact is, they remain extremely well-positioned for the future.
Drew is signed only for this season. Maybe Bogaerts will end up back at short in 2015. Maybe he will remain at third to accommodate the ascent of slick-fielding shortstop Deven Marrero. Or maybe Bogaerts ultimately will wind up in left field if the Red Sox prefer another highly regarded prospect, Garin Cecchini, at third base.
Whatever happens, Bogaerts still figures to become an excellent player, perhaps even a perennial All-Star. He is mature enough to understand that the Red Sox signed Drew to satisfy a short-term agenda, an agenda of which Bogaerts is still a part. If anything, it’s Middlebrooks who will be the odd man out.
As for Drew, the deal he accepted was $4 million guaranteed less than the qualifying offer he rejected from the Red Sox, making that initial decision appear short-sighted. But now, Drew will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season; a player who signs or is traded after Opening Day is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, making him exempt from draft-pick compensation.
Drew, 31, thus will hold an advantage over any free-agent shortstops who do receive qualifying offers. The Orioles’ J.J. Hardy, Athletics’ Jed Lowrie, Indians’ Asdrubal Cabrera and Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez all are eligible to hit the open market, and all but Cabrera might receive qualifying offers.
Drew’s advantage, however, will come into play only if he performs well after missing almost the first two months of the season; Still, if Drew lands, say, a two-year, $26 million deal, his total package will come to three years, $36 million. Such a contract would enable him and agent Scott Boras to proclaim victory.
All that, though, is a story for another day. The Red Sox needed Drew. The Red Sox signed Drew. Short-term vision prevailed, with little sacrifice to the long-term plan.