Stephen Drew Free-Agent Outlook: Drew Represents Best Shortstop Option in Thin Infield Market

Stephen DrewStephen Drew needed a good bounce-back season to not only help the Red Sox, but to also help his stock in free agency this winter. Drew was up to the challenge.

Drew, who signed a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Red Sox last offseason following two injury-plagued seasons split between Arizona and Oakland, played in 124 regular-season games — his most since 2010. He was also very productive in those games, making him the best shortstop available on the open market this offseason.

The Red Sox seemingly have a replacement lined up for Drew in Xander Bogaerts, and the club also has high expectations for third baseman Will Middlebrooks despite his down year in 2013, so it appears that the left side of Boston’s infield could be set for 2014. The Red Sox offered Drew a $14.1 million qualifying offer, though, and John Farrell said Wednesday that he’d welcome the depth that would come with re-signing Drew.

There’s a chance that Drew could receive a multiyear offer that’s just too good for him to pass up, in which case his days in Boston could be numbered. But Drew might instead decide that a one-year, $14.1 million contract with the Red Sox is the best deal for him.

Let’s dive a little deeper into Drew’s free agency.

Personal

Age/DOB: 30 (March 16, 1983)
Experience: 8 years
Acquired: via free agency (Dec. 26, 2012)
Height/weight: 6-foot, 190 pounds
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Resides: Valdosta, Ga.

2013 season in review

G:  124
HR: 13
RBI: 67
AVG: .253 (112-for-442)
OBP/SLG/OPS: .333/.443/.777
SO/BB: 124/54
SB: 6
WAR: 3.1

Drew arrived in Boston amid plenty of skepticism. He had only played a total of 165 games combined in 2010 and 2011, and was forced to deal with the inherent cynicism evoked by his last name — his brother, J.D. Drew, had a rather polarizing five-year stint in Boston.

Things started off on the wrong foot initially, as Drew missed the beginning of the season with a concussion and later struggled upon returning. But he eventually turned his season around and became a very valuable contributor.

Drew’s 67 RBIs matched a career-high and ranked second among American League shortstops behind Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy (76). His 13 home runs were tied for third among AL shortstops, and his .443 slugging percentage was the best mark by a Red Sox shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra slugged .524 in 2003.

Drew’s solid offensive production came to a screeching halt in the postseason, as he hit just .111 (6-for-54) with 19 strikeouts. But the veteran’s nifty glove work — which was on display all season — caused Farrell to stick with him, even when times got tough at the dish.

Strengths

Drew is a very well-rounded player. He provides a solid bat at a position not known for offense, and he’s extremely sure-handed defensively.

Drew is a patient hitter who really got hot in the second half of 2013 — playoffs, notwithstanding. Drew led all major league shortstops after July 27 in slugging percentage (.513) and OPS (.879), and he hit .292 and compiled 35 RBIs in that span.

This package should bode well for the 30-year-old on the open market, where you could argue that he’s the best middle infielder available not named Robinson Cano.

Weaknesses

Drew’s most glaring weakness is his durability. While he played in 124 regular-season games and all 16 of the Red Sox’ playoff games, he did miss time with a concussion and a hamstring issue. Plus, there’s still the injury-plagued 2010 and 2011 campaigns hanging over his head.

Drew also struggled against left-handers in 2013, which caused Farrell to switch up his lineup a bit at times during the middle of the year. Drew hit .196 (30-for-153) with a .246 on-base percentage against lefties in 2013, and is a career .235 hitter versus southpaws.

Market/alternatives

Drew’s dismal 2013 postseason could be looked at as his downfall, but it probably won’t linger too much in the minds of MLB executives. He did enough throughout the regular season and in the years prior to 2010 to prove that he’s a very good shortstop in a league thin on such players.

The Red Sox, as mentioned, have Bogaerts and Middlebrooks firmly implanted on the left side of the infield, so Drew is a bit redundant. At the same time, his return would go a long way toward giving Boston the depth that became a hallmark of its World Series season.

In Drew’s words

“Do I want to be back here? That would be great. I’ve enjoyed my time here. We’ll see what happens. There’s a time to talk. But looking back over the year, have I enjoyed it? Yeah. I would love to finish out my career here. We’ll see how it happens. We’ll see how the cards fall. I definitely love playing with the Red Sox and this team.” (Oct. 6)

Off-the-cuff prediction

Drew will sign a three-year, $33 million contract with the Cardinals.

Drew’s potential return to the Red Sox ultimately hinges on whether he gets a worthwhile multiyear deal from another team. The draft-pick compensation attached to Drew by virtue of Boston’s qualifying offer could be a hindrance in his effort to secure a long-term deal, but he’s too good a player in a thin market for someone to not pony up the pick and the dough.

Plenty of teams could use a good shortstop, but the Cardinals are a good fit. They could use an offensive upgrade at the position, and Drew has a history with the organization dating back to his brother’s days there. St. Louis also has the luxury of knowing that it’ll receive a draft pick when Carlos Beltran signs elsewhere, which seems likely.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

Vote: Will Drew be back with the Red Sox in 2014? >>

Click here for Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s free-agent outlook >>

Click here for Jacoby Ellsbury’s free-agent outlook >>

Click here for Mike Napoli’s free-agent outlook >>