By Jeff Louderback
He was expected to serve as a one-year fix at shortstop before the Red Sox turned over the position to slick-fielding Jose Iglesias. Yet Stephen Drew has emerged as a productive presence in the field and at the plate, and it is feasible that the 30-year-old left-handed hitter could return to Boston in 2014.
Iglesias, of course, was traded to Detroit in a three-team transaction at the July 31 deadline that brought right-handed starting pitcher Jake Peavy to the Red Sox. Iglesias was expendable because of Will Middlebrooks at third and uber shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts, who projects as a middle of the order bat in the majors for the long term.
If the Red Sox do not bring back Mike Napoli, Middlebrooks could be moved to first base (where he has taken ground balls in recent weeks) and Bogaerts could be inserted at third base. This scenario is probably if the club decided to sign Drew to a new contract. He is a free agent at the end of the season, and agent Scott Boras will undoubtedly seek a multi-year deal.
Boston could also make Drew a qualifying offer for 2014, which would be around $14 million, but Drew would seemingly reject that.
Overall, Drew is batting .249 with 12 home runs, 62 RBI, 27 doubles, six triples and a .768 OPS. Yet those numbers are misleading because he delivered a productive second half. At the All-Star break, Drew had a .233 average with 5 home runs, 31 RBI and a .722 OPS in 232 at-bats. In the second half, he is batting .272 with seven home runs, 31 RBI and a .829 OPS in 169 at-bats.
In a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday, Drew belted a game-tying double as one of his two hits. Last night, he was 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI in Boston’s 8-4 victory over the Yankees.
On a roster stocked with true baseball players who accept, embrace and thrive in their roles, Drew is a positive clubhouse presence and represents the high-character guys that general manager Ben Cherington strived to bring in after the team’s 2012 debacle.
Middlebrooks has shown that can serve as a run-producing bat, and his athleticism will allow him to play third base and first base. He has even seen time at second this season to give Dustin Pedroia a late-inning breather. Bogaerts’ natural position is shortstop, and that is likely his long-term home in Boston, especially with another top prospect – third baseman Garin Cecchini – likely to open 2014 at Triple-A Pawtucket.
The Red Sox have infield depth, but in this market it is not wise to break in an array of young players at one time, so bringing back Drew on perhaps a two-year deal makes sense.