Red Sox Need J.D. Drew to Help Fill Jason Bay Void in Lineup J.D. Drew has one of the most expensive contracts in the Red Sox clubhouse. For $14 million a year, the Red Sox have a strong outfielder who can hit in the middle of the order. A good deal, right?


Yes … if you ask general manager Theo Epstein.

“We have somebody who can play a good right field at Fenway Park, which is hard to find, and get on base at a really high level and hit for power,” Epstein told The Boston Globe earlier this year. “That’s a rare combination, someone who could hit in the middle of our lineup and play that position. So it’s a valuable asset to the club. He’s done a really good job since he’s been here.”


Others aren’t so convinced. Some fans are critical that his overall production is not worth his price tag. And when you consider Scott Boras is his agent, being overpriced is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities. His moments of excellence are often followed by clenched fists, which skeptics believe has produced nothing but a roller-coaster ride of frustration.


But 2010 is a new year.


Drew is a strong asset to the lineup and defense. This statement, however, demands an asterisk and qualifier: *when healthy. To quiet all the doubters, Drew needs to drink his milk and take his vitamins so he can reach (and even surpass) the potential the Red Sox front office believed he had when it signed him to a five-year, $70 million contract in 2007.


Over three seasons in Boston, Drew has hit .276 with 54 home runs and 196 RBIs in 386 games. Those aren’t Hall of Fame numbers, but he also helped the Red Sox win a World Series in 2007. And that counts for a lot.


But is it enough?


This past winter, Drew had surgery on his left shoulder, and he’s reported no problems this spring.


“Just the little shoulder surgery that I had, cleaning up some bone spurs on my AC joint that were giving me fits throughout the year,” Drew said in February. “We didn’t know what was going on. We never took any pictures or did anything during the season, and it only got worse as the season went along, came in around Thanksgiving, had that done and feel great now.”


With Jason Bay now hitting for the Mets, Drew will need to help pick up the slack. And he’s more than capable of doing that. The 34-year-old posted a .914 OPS last season third among AL outfielders behind Bay. Drew’s on-base percentage was .392 in 2009. This stat alone is critical to the Red Sox’ offense, and may be enough to forgive his 68 RBIs.


Since Drew could hit anywhere from fifth to seventh in the order, driving batters home is imperative. This is an area where he can improve and get more aggressive at times. He has one of the smoothest strokes in the game, and he must use it.


Drew does have the power to drive runners home. That is why he can be so frustrating at times — one day launching a home run to the deepest part of center field at Fenway with a flick of the wrist, the next being unavailable to even pinch-hit. Yet despite his ups-and-downs, Drew still hit 24 home runs in 137 games last season. With an improved post-surgery shoulder, the 2010 Drew may have more powerful swings in his bat and more confidence when choosing a pitch. The 12-year veteran has only hit 30 home runs once in his career (31 in 2004). This could be the year he makes it twice.


Defensively, Drew is a natural fit for Boston’s run prevention philosophy, manning Fenway Park’s difficult right field — one of the toughest areas to patrol in the majors — with ease. As long as he can stay in the lineup, he will save runs.


Time will tell if the “hardest part is showing up” mantra holds true for J.D. Drew in 2010. Drew has never played more than 146 games in a season. If he is able to come close to hitting that number, the Red Sox will be in good shape. Drew is a key component in the Red Sox’ season. He has the talent to do great things offensively and defensively, as long as manager Terry Francona can put his name in the lineup..


Drew is in the penultimate year of his contract. Has he been worth $52 million the past three seasons? That’s debatable.


But now he has a chance to prove to Boston — and Red Sox Nation — that he’s worth every penny of the $28 million remaining on his deal.


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From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.


March 20: Maintain interleague dominance.