Why the Red Sox Had to Re-Sign Stephen Drew
After winning the World Series, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington decided to trend towards youth and a smaller payroll while hoping to remain in the hunt for another championship. In doing so, the team let go of Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Marlins), Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees), and Stephen Drew.
However, this hasn’t exactly worked out as planned. The Red Sox had arguably the best offense in 2013, leading the league with a .347 wOBA. In 2014, the Red Sox are floating in the middle of the standings with .314 weighted on-base average, and haven't generated the same excitement they did a season ago.
One player that was supposed to step up this year: Will Middlebrooks. He was expected to come off his injury-plagued 2013 and perform like he did in 2012. But that hasn’t exactly happened, as his average has now dropped from .288 to .197 over the last three seasons. On top of it all, Middlebrooks has already missed some time this season, accumulating only 82 plate appearances.
So with WMB's troubles continuing, the Red Sox turned to a familiar face in Stephen Drew. This past Tuesday it was announced that the Red Sox had signed Drew to a deal for the rest of the season for somewhere close to 10 million dollars, on the heels of announcing Middlebrooks landed on the disabled list yet again. But was this a wise way to spend $10 million?
The Positive Aspects of Signing Drew
The Sox are in desperate need for help to stay in playoff contention for this year. For starters, they have a .592 OPS from their third basemen, sixth-worst in majors. The Sox third basemen have also combined for the fourth-worst wRC+ (weighted runs created) at 59, extremely below average; only the Orioles, Giants and Phillies are worse in this category.
While Drew is not a third baseman, his short-term contract allows the Red Sox to shift Xander Bogaerts to third, and man the position until either Middlebrooks is back or the Sox trade for additional help. Bogaerts has a semi-decent slash line of .270/.372/.378 to start off his first full season in the bigs, but it’s been enough to help keep the Boston offense afloat. If Drew can provide a ripple effect within the lineup, Bogaerts may have more opportunities to improve upon his seven RBI this year.
To inject life into the lineup and create that ripple effect, Drew will have to perform as he did last year. He was sixth-best among shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances, contributing a 3.4 WAR and 67 RBI despite a .253 average. The tandem of Drew and Bogaerts from the offensive standpoint should be able to easily improve upon the lack of offense from the Middlebrooks/Bogaerts combination.
The Side Effects of Signing Drew
While Drew can help improve the offense, it's the left side of the defense that has cause for concern. Drew has been a liability on defense in the past, and Bogaerts didn't instill much confidence playing third base last year.
Will the Sox get the 2013 version of Drew, where he tallied a 5.3 UZR? Or the 2012 version that scored a -7.0 within the sabermetric? If Drew can do half of what he did in 2013 on the defensive side, it would still be an upgrade over what Bogaerts is currently doing. Bogaerts only has -0.4 UZR on this season, and his UZR at shortstop was 1.8 in 2013. It's not as if he's been horrible, but the Sox have the potential of upgrading the defense at shortstop with Drew.
However, moving Bogaerts could be dangerous for two reasons. It's not his natural position (he spent only 10 games there in AAA), and when he did play the position in the majors last year, his UZR was dangerously low (-1.9 UZR). While Middlebrooks may have been struggling with his bat, he was an average third baseman at best (0.3 UZR). An upgrade at shortstop could cause for a downgrade at the hot corner.
Of course there's the chance that Bogaerts has enough natural talent to still learn the position and outperform his metrics from last year. But if he’s focusing on learning a new position, will that affect his overall game? Are they asking too much of their highly-touted prospect?
I think a few bumps in the road will be expected and the numbers above were a small sample size. The Sox believe the talent is there to ask Bogaerts to move over, but they shouldn’t set high expectations. Shifting Bogaerts could be a big risk, but the Sox feel it's worth it right now.
Decisions for 2015 and Beyond
Signing Drew could have a long-term effect on the team as well. The Red Sox are losing draft pick compensation, so while Cherington is continually trying to add to the youth of the minors, it's really hard to say if the pick would have resulted in a player that could provide an impact as quickly as many others in the system can right now.
But the effects of the Drew signing and the Middlebrooks injury will shape how 2015 plays out for the Red Sox. The signing of Stephen Drew tells me two things: the front office is getting ready to give up on Middlebrooks, and while talent is there at AAA, no one has proved they are worthy to be called up to the minors just yet.
If the front office isn't holding out hope for WMB anymore, there is a high chance of him being traded. However, to move Middlebrooks, they can’t expect very much compensation even if they do try to increase his value. He will need some rehab time in AAA before he gets a shot in the majors again, but the Sox have other projects at AAA that are more important. Middlebrooks would likely have to learn to play first base as Garrin Cecchini currently occupies the hot corner in Pawtucket.
Cecchini has adapted to each level offensively for the Sox but his defense is still improving at the AAA level. There is little chance he gets called up this year, but if he impresses the rest of the season and in next year’s spring training, he could be in line for playing time in the majors when the 2015 season starts. This could bump Middlebrooks out if he is still around.
If Cecchini were to nab the third base duties in 2015, it would allow Bogaerts to go back over to his natural position at shortstop. With Drew being a one-year rental, third base could be solved in various ways next year.
If Cecchini or Middlebrooks aren't up to the task, the Sox might reach down into their farm system at shortstop and give Devin Marrero (in AA Portland currently) a look if his offense continues to improve. His .288/.373/.439 slash could provide decent enough offense at shortstop to leave Bogaerts at third – or in the very least become a utility guy if needed.
The signing of Drew was no more than a temporary move. The Red Sox have the money to pursue another guy to fill in for the rest of the season, but they won't sign anyone that could jeopardize the youth in the minors right now if they continue to add to the roster.
They had the perfect balance last year between the veterans and the young players, but they knew they would sacrifice some wins in allowing the youngsters to play this year. If Drew can help them for one more year, they have plenty to be excited about in the years to come.