If Stephen Drew’s market never truly develops like we thought it would, the Red Sox should resign him. And if they do so, they should retain Will Middlebrooks, too.
I know, I know, it’s a radical idea. We’ve become so used to the “Drew or Middlebrooks” logic that it seems almost a foregone conclusion that the Red Sox won’t roster both in 2014. If we resign Drew, it’s off to Gulag/Miami for Middlebrooks. If Boston doesn’t throw money at Drew, he’ll be starting for the Mets or Yankees.
But there is plenty of middle ground here, and a 2014 Red Sox roster with Drew and Middlebrooks would not only be exceptionally deep, but it would afford Boston said flexibility without mortgaging the future to the extent that many suggest.
Let’s take a look at what the Red Sox would look like with both on board for 2014.
It’s hard to argue that signing Drew wouldn’t make the Red Sox a better team when facing right-handed pitching. Drew hit .284/.377/.498 with 9 homers against righties last season, and when you couple a stat line like that with outstanding defense, it’s clear that Drew is one hell of a player.
His offense falls off the face of the earth when he faces southpaws, though, which is where Middlebrooks comes in handy. WMB is a career .285/.338/.838 hitter against southpaws, which makes him worth of hitting in the middle of the order against lefties.
The idea here, of course, is that Bogaerts would play every day, at third base when Drew starts and at shortstop when Middlebrooks starts. Let’s take a look at what Boston’s lineup could look like against righties and lefties:
|Shane Victorino, RF||Shane Victorino, RF|
|Danial Nava, LF||Xander Bogaerts, SS|
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||Dustin Pedroia, 2B|
|David Ortiz, DH||David Ortiz, DH|
|Mike Napoli, 1B||Mike Napoli, 1B|
|Stephen Drew, SS||Will Middlebrooks, 3B|
|Xander Bogaerts, 3B||Jonny Gomes, LF|
|AJ Pierzynski, C||David Ross, C|
|Jackie Bradley, CF||Jackie Bradley, CF|
It’s not a conventional lineup with its heavy use of platoons, and it’s not quite how I’d construct the batting order, but it would be potent nonetheless. With steps forward from Bogaerts and (hopefully) WMB, this offense could be nearly as good as it was in 2013, even without Ellsbury and with probable regression coming form Victorino.
The 2013 Red Sox were pretty lucky when it came to health. Yes, Drew missed some time and Pedroia played with an injured thumb and Middlebrooks may have been recovering from a wrist injury. But on the whole, health was on their side.
Resigning Drew protects the Red Sox from a wide variety of outcomes. If the 38-year-old Ortiz misses time, the Red Sox could let Mike Carp and Middlebrooks DH. If Napoli is injured, Middlebrooks could see time at first base. If Middlebrooks doesn’t progress the Red Sox still have two viable starters in Drew and Bogaerts. And should the unthinkable happen and Bogaerts struggle in his first year, he could be sent back to the minors without necessitating everyday starts from Jonathan Herrera.
Essentially, resigning Drew protects Boston from every scenario other than a Dustin Pedroia injury. That’s incredible flexibility to have, and would make the Red Sox arguably the deepest team in baseball.
As one Patrick Sullivan pointed out to me on Twitter, there’s an argument to be made that Bogaerts’ development could be hurt by constantly switching him between third base and shortstop. I’m not entirely sure it’s an argument I’m ready to accept, but it’s certainly reasonable and the same logic applies to Middlebrooks: if the Red Sox shield him from RHP all year, they still won’t really know what they have in him moving forward.
There’s also the possibility that Drew puts up a stink if he becomes a platoon player, although you’d have to think he’s aware of the roster construction of the Red Sox and would know what resigning in Boston could mean for his playing time. Middlebrooks could also voice displeasure about playing part time, but he has no leverage.
Essentially, it’s important to remember that these players are people, and that inconsistent playing time could impact their performances and their production. It’s not an easy argument to quantify, but that doesn’t mean we can dismiss it out of hand.
This is perhaps the most popular argument against Drew: he costs money. There’s no exact figure yet, of course, but odds are Drew would command between $13-15 million in a one-year deal. That might mean the Red Sox would be forced to give something away with Ryan Dempster to free up some money, or perhaps trade Jake Peavy in order to clear some space.
Of course, this is also a team that hasn’t gone over the luxury tax in several seasons and can afford to push the envelope a bit this year. A one-year, $14 million contract is not going to do any sort of meaningful harm to this organization, even if Drew gets hit by a beer truck on April 4th.
There’s also the notion that the Red Sox would be giving up a draft pick if they re-signed Drew, which isn’t exactly fair. They don’t have a draft pick until Drew signs elsewhere, so I don’t know that we can say they lose one. It’s a bit semantic, since the draft pick needs to be included in the valuation, but I digress …
I recognize the importance of a strong farm system and I know that a first round draft pick can be hugely valuable. Some supplemental picks the Red Sox have used in the past have turned into the likes of Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Anthony Ranaudo. They’ve also turned into Michael Bowden, Caleb Clay, Ryan Dent … you get the picture. There’s certainly an argument to be made against this line of thinking, but I believe a starting shortstop that can be acquired during a time when the team is a legitimate World Series contender is worth a supplemental draft pick. You don’t have to agree, but let’s not pretend that my premise is ridiculous.
I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the Red Sox are better off saving money, banking a supplemental draft pick and hoping that Bogaerts and Middlebrooks produce on the left side of the infield. I don’t think you can argue against stating that Drew makes the 2014 Red Sox better, though, and if he can be had at a relatively low-cost deal like the one I arbitrarily invented above, the Red Sox would be sacrificing their present to marginally improve their future. That’s a good strategy and it’s partially why Boston is in the position it’s in now, but it has its limits.
I’m also not trying to suggest that Boston should get into a bidding war for Drew. If the Mets or Yankees or Twins or someone else want to offer him a three-year deal, I’m all for letting him walk. But if we’re talking about a one- or two-year deal, unlikely but not impossible, I think the Red Sox should make a strong play.
Either way, the main point I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t have to be Drew or Middlebrooks. There’s plenty of room for the 2013 Red Sox to roster both players, and if they do they’re going to be a damn fine team.
If not, they’ll still be plenty good, but we’ll need to pray that we saw the real Middlebrooks in 2012 and not 2013.