There will be a time in the near future when a regular Red Sox right fielder not named J.D. Drew drifts back on a ball hit into the corner, perhaps toward Pesky Pole, and completely flubs the play, turning an out into a triple. In fact, it may happen often. At the very least, it will happen more than Boston fans have become accustomed to since Drew came aboard prior to the 2007 season.
That may be the first time that Red Sox followers will collectively look at one another and say, “It would’ve been nice to have J.D. Drew out there.”
Enough fans with a knowledge and appreciation for how Drew plays his position have already noticed his value out there. But Drew has remained a whipping boy in Boston for having offensive numbers which do not seem to live up to his $14 million contract, for taking frequent days off for a variety of minor ailments and due to the fact that he appears to be aloof about the whole thing.
Boston fans love gamers, and especially adore those who do their work with their teeth grit, their wallets lean and their playing styles impervious to pain. On the surface, Drew fits none of these criteria. That does not mean he is unworthy of praise in 2011, the final year of his five-year deal with the Sox. In fact, the reasons for appreciation are plentiful.
First of all, the criticism Drew gets for making the amount of money he does is not his fault. In fact, he could be lauded for making the "gutsy" decision to utilize an escape clause and leave $33 million on the table with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Drew and his agent, Scott Boras, gambled and won. The fact that 68 RBIs is not enough for some fans at that price is not his fault.
Perhaps this isn’t cause for adoration, but at least the criticism always seems a bit off-target. Look to the front office if you have a problem with it.
Second, and those who have a keen eye for such things have noticed this, the defense is very good. According to fangraphs.com, Drew has been among the best defensive right fielders, if not the best, in the American League each season with the Sox in terms of his UZR rating, a metric ranking designed to analyze the value of players on defense. For those old-schoolers who admire how Drew gets a read on balls as well as anyone and who still use fielding percentage as a benchmark, he didn’t make an error in 2010 until the final game of the season.
Third, comparing Drew to past Red Sox right fielders paints a pretty good picture, despite what some will have you believe. Trot Nixon was adored by Red Sox fans for his toughness, but he missed a multitude of games over the course of his Boston career and had numbers remarkably similar to Drew. The latter was quite possibly more consistent and just as durable over the long run. While also productive, Troy O’Leary was only a part-timer in right field during his time with the Sox in the mid-1990s, one of a collection of fill-ins after the departure of Dwight Evans in 1991.
Finally, Drew did have his moments. There was the grand slam in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS, one of the major blows for a remarkable run to a second world championship and part of a pretty impressive postseason resume for Drew (in 28 playoff games with Boston he hit .286 with four homers and 19 RBIs). He also put the Red Sox on his back the following season when David Ortiz was injured, batting .337 with 12 homers and 27 RBIs in the month of June alone.
Put it all together and it creates a five-year stint that is not without merit. While there will be no "Thank You J.D. Day" like there was for Mike Lowell (who also played five years in Boston) when Drew moves on, the appreciation for him will eventually come. When it does you may be watching an opponent slide into third base in Fenway Park with your new right fielder hanging his head in shame.
Each day of November, we will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.
Nov. 5: Has Darnell McDonald won a job as the Red Sox’ fourth outfielder?
Nov. 7: How will Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis bounce back from their injuries?