I slept on it: analyzing the Red Sox signing of Stephen Drew from all sides
The Boston Red Sox swallowed the pill. Stephen Drew is back with the team on a one-year, $10.2 million deal that is essentially the prorated amount of what the club offered back in November. Let’s be clear: Scott Boras didn’t “win” this one — he wanted a multi-year pact — but he did get a deal for his client, and the shortstop will be collecting nearly $20 million for two years of service in Boston.
While the move makes sense in a vacuum, it’s not going to turn the team around. As a full-time starter, Drew was a valuable component of last year’s championship team, but it’s not as though the Red Sox considered him irreplaceable — they basically advanced through the postseason tournament without his bat, as he hit a sickly .111 (6-for-54). The fact that Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts haven’t lived up to expectations on both sides of the ball led to this reactionary transaction.
So it’s kind of a panic move. The 2014 Red Sox are craving a guy who can hit right-handed pitching. One of the best from the previous campaign, Daniel Nava, languishes in Pawtucket while Jackie Bradley and Grady Sizemore compete for the Mario Mendoza Award. Drew is at .275/.343/.451 for his career against righties, including .284/.377/.498 last year, but think of the logistics: he hasn’t faced Major League pitching in seven months. The Sox are reasoning that Stephen Drew, right now, is better than the temporary options they could have harvested from Pawtucket until the return of Middlebrooks from the DL.
When Will Middlebrooks returns, will it be to Boston? The move is an indictment of the 25-year old’s body of work as Red Sox third baseman over 115 games in 2013 and ’14, which has featured poor plate discipline, multiple trips to the DL and a mid-season demotion. Though Bogaerts, Drew and Middlebrooks coexisted on the Red Sox postseason roster last year, it’s unlikely a three-headed monster (or kitten, depending on your perspective) on the left side of the infield will persist this year. Stephen Drew is the present and Xander Bogaerts is the future.
The Sox are also craving a defense that can back up their pitchers, particularly the much-maligned Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz, who need all the help they can get. While the 21-year old from Aruba will continue to log at-bats as Middlebrooks makes dinner reservations with Jenny Dell, the move also shows the team has seen enough of Bogaerts at shortstop in 2014. He’s now tied for fourth in the AL with six errors. Given his youth, I don’t think this means Bogaerts is done at the position forever — just for now.
Foremost, the signing represents a sea change in the attitude of the front office. The Boston Red Sox are “playoffs or bust” for 2014. Last year, the edict wasn’t “win now,” yet the team won anyway with a hodgepodge of veterans, good clubhouse chemistry, and a little bit of luck. Winning begets pressure to win again, and 2014 recalls Theo Epstein’s 2010 “bridge year.” Epstein never completed the bridge as ownership and the fan base demanded more than a competitive squad with an emphasis on player development. They wanted the top of the mountain. And it all blew up in Epstein’s face.
The Stephen Drew signing won’t blow up in Ben Cherington’s face. It’s a one-year deal. Signing the shortstop takes him away from the Tigers, Yankees or another AL contender who may have a need for his services. But it does mean the organization has given up on a 25-year old third base prospect. It also means they’re all-in for 2014. Since Stephen Drew isn’t enough to tip the scales, that must mean another move is on the horizon.