Red Sox Banking on J.D. Drew to Finish Strong

Red Sox Banking on J.D. Drew to Finish Strong J.D. Drew has never had any trouble getting big contracts. Living up to them is another story.

In 2005, he made $9 million with the Dodgers and hit .286 with 15 home runs and 36 RBIs in 72 games (252 at-bats).

In 2006, he made $11 million in L.A. and hit .270 with 20 home runs and 100 RBIs in 146 games (494 at-bats).

In 2007, he made $14 million with the Red Sox (after using an escape clause in his deal with the Dodgers to become a free agent) and hit .270 with 11 home runs and 64 RBIs in 140 games (466 at-bats).

In 2008, he made $14 million and hit .280 with 19 home runs and 64 RBIs in 109 games (368 at-bats).

In 2009, he’s making $14 million and hitting .265 with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs in 113 games (381 at-bats).

That’s $62 million for flashes of brilliance and long stretches of wondering how somebody can play baseball when they’re asleep.

It will be tough for Drew to shake the notion that he’s overpaid, but if he can follow up a big August with a monster September, he might make this season’s salary a little more palatable.

Last month, Drew hit .329 with six home runs, 13 RBIs, a .449 on-base percentage, a .644 slugging percentage and a 1.093 OPS in 73 at-bats. He showed pop, delivered in the clutch and made great plays look like rolling out of bed. That’s how the highest-paid player on the team is supposed to perform. The Red Sox are hoping the 33-year-old veteran keeps it going.

Since Victor Martinez joined the club and extended the lineup, Terry Francona has been able to drop Drew to the bottom third of the lineup. When a team’s No. 8 hitter is a former No. 2 overall pick, that’s not bad for production (Boston led the majors with 50 home runs in August).

No one has ever doubted Drew’s ability. He is a five-tool player with a swing as smooth as Caruso’s voice and more great expectations than a Charles Dickens novel. Ever since Drew refused to sign with the Phillies in 1997 after being drafted out of Florida State — Scott Boras asked for $10 million, and Philadelphia said don’t choke on the cheesesteak — the country kid from Georgia has had to prove he’s worth all the zeroes on his contracts.

It hasn’t been easy. He’s had off-the-field family issues (his son had a medical scare in 2007. His heart and passion for the game have been called into question by former manager Tony La Russa). And some have said his value is less than zero (pick a bitter fan).

But despite being unable to put everything together for more than a couple of weeks for most of his career — he gets hot, then injuries strike … he returns, then falls into a slump — Drew has never gotten down about continuity being a foreign concept to him. At least not publicly. He has never listened to the naysayers.

Now he could be rewarded for staying on the level throughout all those hitless nights. The lowlights could be history, good for a few laughs over a glass of lemonade and reminiscing on the front porch.

They say every dog has his day, and Drew is primed to play Rin Tin Tin. He looks as comfortable on the diamond as he has at any point during his time in Boston. Good things happen when people are comfortable. In 2004, Drew hit .305 with 31 home runs and 93 home runs in 145 games (and a career-high 518 at-bats) while playing for the Braves in his home state.

Drew made $4.2 million that season and probably was underpaid.

Money has a way of changing people, but it hasn’t changed Drew. With 32 games left in the regular season for the Red Sox, he’s ready to show he’s better than ever — and earn his keep.

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