Stephen Drew’s Return Will Help Red Sox Combat Early Season Nightmares

Stephen DrewBOSTON — Stephen Drew will be a sight for sore eyes.

Drew’s impending return to the Red Sox won’t solve all of Boston’s current issues. It will, however, address a few key weaknesses, thus making it an important move by the struggling Sox.

“We’re looking for ways to improve this team,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Tuesday. “Without having to give up talent to acquire a good player in Stephen, we’re able to sign him as a free agent. Again, once he gets back to us, we’ll add a good player to this team.”

Drew reportedly agreed a one-year contract worth the prorated value of the $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox he rejected at the beginning of free agency — around $10 million after some number-crunching. It’s a reasonable price for a sure-handed shortstop with offensive pop, just as it was a reasonable price when the Red Sox extended the qualifying offer six months ago.

But Drew’s value to the Red Sox undoubtedly is greater now than it was when the club first explored bringing the shortstop back for another season. It’s because essentially everything that could have gone wrong with the left side of the Red Sox’s infield has gone wrong to this point.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts has endured growing pains, particularly defensively, and third baseman Will Middlebrooks has battled two separate injuries — a calf strain and now a fractured finger — on top of providing inconsistent production. Re-signing Drew over the offseason would have safeguarded the Red Sox against such issues — and the Sox seemingly understood that — yet Boston rolled the dice and committed entirely to the young infield tandem. It didn’t work out.

That’s all revisionist history, though. The Red Sox just are fortunate Drew wasn’t able to land the multiyear contract he sought in free agency and was still unemployed a month and a half into the regular season. Otherwise, the Red Sox would have been forced to explore other options more, and it’s likely none would have fit Boston’s needs quite like Drew, particularly when you factor in that he’s a known commodity who should be able to transition seamlessly back into the mix from a chemistry standpoint.

Drew immediately improves the Red Sox’s defense, which has been shoddy this season, and he does so with the benefit of already having plenty of experience playing alongside his double-play partner, second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The Red Sox have received quality starting pitching for the most part this season, and life should become even easier for the club’s hurlers with enhanced glove work behind them.

“The position he plays, the talent that he is, I think that will lend an element of improvement immediately,” Farrell said Tuesday. “That’s not to slight anyone else. That’s just to say how good of a defender he is.”

Drew also gives the Red Sox someone who can handle right-handed pitching, which Boston has struggled to do as a team this season. The Red Sox hit .283 with a .355 on-base percentage and .818 OPS versus right-handers in 2013, whereas this year’s team entered Tuesday’s action hitting .240 with a .321 on-base percentage and .686 OPS against righties through 43 games.

Drew won’t singlehandedly turn the Red Sox back into a powerhouse against right-handers — Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Daniel Nava all had something to do with last year’s success — but his 2013 slash line against righties (.284/.377/.498) gives reason to believe Boston will enjoy an uptick in offensive production with him penciled into the lineup.

“This was about (general manager) Ben (Cherington) having a full understanding of where our needs exist and how do we improve upon them,” Farrell said. “And Stephen is a guy that’s available to do that. I can’t say that there was a greater amount of push following Will’s injury or how things have transpired over the first 43 games. We had a need, and (Cherington) went out and filled it.”

Re-signing Drew over the offseason would have been logical, even if it would have been considered a luxury signing at the time. Re-signing Drew now, as Boston struggles to gain traction in its title defense, almost is a matter of common sense.

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