No one on The Internets has spent more time hyping up Xander Bogaerts than I have, and even after just two-or-so weeks in the majors, it’s not hard to see why. The 20 year old is lithe and athletic and dreamy and can do this, and it’s impossible not to imagine him as a potential cornerstone for the Red Sox for the next many years. It’s likely that the Xander Bogaerts era will begin in earnest next season, when most expect him to begin the year as the team’s starting shortstop.
I certainly have no issue with that plan, as even if Bogaerts struggles I do believe he’s ready for the major leagues. And while there’s certainly a risk in handing the keys to your infield to a 21-year-old, with that risk comes the potential for tremendous reward.
Yet while Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks provide a left side of the infield for Sox fans to dream on, another man has been a big part of Boston’s productive infield in 2013. Yes, he may lack the grotesque beard of some of the Red Sox’ other offseason additions, and he’s more “solid” than “spectacular” both in the field and at the plate. But make no mistake about it: Stephen Drew has been a big part of a Sox team that looks like it could go deep into the playoffs.
Drew’s only played in 109 games this season thanks to a mix of injury and the Sox’ infield depth, notching 440 PA in which he’s hit .246/.330/.433 with 12 homers. Those numbers are good enough to see Drew register 12th among all shortstops in fWAR, with a 2.4 mark that’s largely identical to the likes of Brandon Crawford, Alexei Ramirez and Elvis Andrus. Personally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of Drew’s glove, which Fangraphs rates as three runs above average but which looks like it could’ve been worth a bit more when it comes to the ever-reliable eye test.
This is not to say he hasn’t been frustrating to watch at time. Drew has been Trot Nixon-level streaky this year, hitting .244 in May, .266 in June, .200 in July and then .304 in August before falling back down to .222 so far in September. He’s also shown some pronounced platoon splits, hitting just .189 against lefties while mashing righties to a .276 mark.
Add it all together, and you get a steady presence at short who proved a huge boon to the team before Bogaerts was ready and while Middlebrooks was mired in Triple-A. He figures to see semi-regular playing time throughout the rest of the season, sitting often against lefties but starting in the majority of the team’s games against right-handed pitchers.
And that, in a nutshell, will likely be Drew’s entire career with the Red Sox.
Signed to a one-year deal before the season, Drew has certainly shown the rest of the league that he’s capable of anchoring shortstop for a contending team. He’ll probably get a three-year deal after the season, and there’s no way he does worse than two. He’s not a superstar but he’s reliable, and plenty of teams – St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and both New York Teams – will all vie for his services when the offseason begins. The Red Sox, with Bogaerts primed to man short, will likely let him walk without much fuss.
While they don’t have much of a choice – Drew is too good and too expensive to serve as a part time infielder, but not good enough to bump Bogaerts or Middlebrooks out of the lineup – I think Boston will miss Drew next year more than most realize. There’s plenty of time for the Sox to acquire a good backup infielder, but right now their best option is Brock Holt \o/. And if Middlebrooks loses himself again or if Bogaerts isn’t as ready for prime time as we think, the Sox suddenly look pretty thin on the left side of their infield.
The subtraction of Drew is likely to be lost this offseason amidst talks with Jacoby Ellsbury, the Mike Napoli vs. Jose Abreu debate and efforts to retain Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but it will be significant nonetheless. Sox fans might not remember him as fondly as they will Jonny Gomes or Koji Uehara or some of our more expressive and memorable players. But let’s not neglect what Drew has done.
At worst, he admirably served as a bridge to a man who could be our most exciting homegrown player since Dustin Pedroia and brought stability to a position that – save for Marco Scutaro – has lacked it for the better part of a decade.
At best … well … October is right around the corner. Drew has some time to more clearly define his Red Sox legacy then.