Thursday, November 7, 2013

Free Agent Target: Stephen Drew

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

A few short years ago, the left side of the Yankee infield was one of the best in baseball.  Well, at least from an offensive standpoint.  Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were still among the best hitters at their positions, even as they advanced into their mid-to-late 30s, and were permanent fixtures in key spots in the batting order.  Fast forward to 2013 and oh how the mighty have fallen.  The Captain and America's Most Hated Athlete combined to play just 61 games this season, the byproduct of a brutal combination of injury setbacks, MLB steroid probes, and natural age-related regression.

To their credit, the Yankees did attempt to bring in an MLB-caliber backup option for the left side when they went after free agent shortstop Stephen Drew last offseason.  His value was down after a few declining years in Arizona and a mid-season trade to Oakland, but Drew turned down a higher dollar offer from the Yankees to sign a 1-year deal with Baaaahhhhhston and guarantee himself more playing time.  After a much better 2013 season that ended with a championship parade, Drew is back out on the market this offseason and once again on the Yankees' radar.

30 years old and turning 31 before next Opening Day, Drew is a lefty hitter who's made his name primarily on the strength of his defense in recent years.  He's not a weak hitter by any means - .264/.329/.435 career slash line - but Drew's reputation is built more on his glove than his bat.  While he's not Brendan Ryan-level elite defensively and he's never won any Gold Glove or Fielding Bible awards, Drew draws mostly positive reviews for his range at short and his arm.  He's more steady and reliable than flashy and highlight reel-inspiring.  Considering the type of defense the Yankees have had at short the last few years, steady and reliable would be a major improvement.

Offensively, Drew had a nice bounce back year in 2013 after a really rough 2012.  He hit .253/.333/.443 for the Sawx with 13 HR, 29 2B, and a 10.8% BB rate.  That BB rate is something Drew has improved since first breaking into the Majors in 2006, posting back-to-back seasons of double digit BB rates after never doing it once in his first 6 seasons.  The reason for that could be the devastating ankle injury Drew suffered in 2011 that temporarily derailed his career.  It was that injury that led to his drastic decline in production and trade from Arizona, and without the strength in his legs to drive the ball, Drew had to adjust at the plate and become more selective.  His offensive rebound in 2013 showed that he's fully recovered from the ankle injury, and while he'll probably never approach 20 HR again like he did in '08, he's got more than enough pop in his bat to be a valuable offensive player.

As is the case with Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, Drew received a qualifying offer and will come at the expense of the Yankees' 1st round draft pick if they choose to sign him.  With his 2013 salary being $9.5 million and with their being reported mutual interest on both sides, chances are Drew could choose to accept the QO and return to Boston in 2014.  Even if he doesn't, the Yankees will still be fighting an uphill battle to sign him because the playing time concerns that dissuaded him from coming to New York this year still exist.  Jeter is going to be the starting shortstop next year, so Drew's chances to play his natural position will be limited.  He has no MLB experience at third base and probably wouldn't be willing to move there as A-Rod insurance if he has the guarantee of playing short somewhere else.

The bottom line is that Drew is more than qualified to be a starting MLB shortstop and the Yankees don't have an opening for that job.  He would be a better full-time option that Jeter but there's no way he's going to come in and take over that position, not after Hal just willingly gave Jeter a raise for no reason other than the fact that he's Derek Jeter.  Expect the Yankees to make another offer to Drew this offseason, probably another 1-year one, but don't expect Drew to deviate from his decision last year and take the Yankees up on their offer.

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