Stephen Drew Returning Remains Best-Case Scenario for Red Sox, Beginning to Seem More Likely

Stephen DrewStephen Drew can’t be too thrilled about how this offseason has played out. The Boston Red Sox, on the other hand, have every reason to be optimistic.

Sure-handed shortstops with power aren’t easily obtainable, yet Drew remains a free agent and the list of potential suitors has dwindled to the point where a return to Boston is a legitimate possibility. It’s an ideal situation for the Red Sox, although re-signing Drew for one more year remains the best-case scenario.

The Red Sox can afford to be patient with Drew. They have leverage in negotiations because of the scarcity of other suitors, the benefit of adding a draft pick if Drew signs elsewhere and the security of knowing that Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks can be penciled into their Opening Day lineup at shortstop and third base, respectively, regardless of what happens. But while Bogaerts and Middlebrooks could comprise a formidable tandem on the left side of the infield and an extra draft pick would help feed the Red Sox’ already deep farm system, re-signing Drew would go a long way toward maintaining the depth that became the backbone of Boston’s World Series run.

A lot of things went right for the Red Sox in 2013. One area where Boston saw its most dramatic improvement over 2012 — when the club stumbled to a 69-93, last-place finish — was its overall health. Aside from Clay Buchholz’s lengthy hiatus, the Red Sox were able to stay healthy for most of the season. Much of that obviously can be attributed to luck, but the Red Sox’ overall depth enabled John Farrell to keep his players fresh and made it easier for him to weather the storm when the injury bug began its occasional nibble. Having Drew around for 2014 would give Farrell that luxury once again.

The left side of the infield was the Red Sox’ most fluid situation in 2013. Jose Iglesias stormed out of the gate before being traded to the Detroit in the Jake Peavy deal, Middlebrooks struggled mightily to begin the year before earning a demotion and Bogaerts burst onto the scene in August before eventually becoming the club’s everyday third baseman in the playoffs. Brock Holt, Pedro Ciriaco and Brandon Snyder also had their time in The Show. Change wouldn’t come as easily without Drew, though. The Red Sox instead would rely heavily on both Bogaerts and Middlebrooks, which, despite each player’s immense potential, represents somewhat of a gamble.

Middlebrooks hit .231 with a .234 on-base percentage over the first month and a half last season. The 25-year-old then hit .160 (4-for-25) with a .250 on-base percentage and 10 strikeouts in the postseason, paving the way for Bogaerts’ breakout October. There’s a chance Middlebrooks could revert back to his 2012 form, but banking on such is a leap of faith, especially given that the 21-year-old Bogaerts is still developing and that the Red Sox’ offense might regress slightly with Jacoby Ellsbury now donning pinstripes.

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said earlier this week that the Bronx Bombers won’t sign Drew, as they already have added infielders Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson in addition to re-signing Brendan Ryan to provide depth behind Derek Jeter. The St. Louis Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta, the New York Mets have expressed confidence in shortstop Ruben Tejeda and the Minnesota Twins look ready to roll with Pedro Florimon in the middle of their infield. That leaves Drew on the outside looking in as the Red Sox contemplate just how much they value the 30-year-old’s presence.

Drew might have been better off accepting Boston’s one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer and hitting the open market again next offseason, when some teams inevitably will realize they made a mistake by either overlooking Drew in favor of a worse internal option or by ruling out a potential pursuit of the veteran because of the draft-pick compensation attached to him. Then again, we now have the benefit of hindsight, and who could have foreseen the market for Drew — a top-10 shortstop — failing to develop?

For now, Drew and the Red Sox will continue to play the waiting game. It’s a game the Red Sox are positioned to win, although the real victory for Boston would be another year of Drew and a deeper team for its title defense.

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

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