The Red Sox and Stephen Drew coming to terms on a one-year deal on Tuesday was both unexpected and unsurprising. The news broke out of nowhere on an otherwise normal afternoon, but it also came in response to growing evidence that Ben Cherington needed to upgrade Boston’s roster if the club was to contend in 2014.
We have reached the point on the baseball calendar—roughly seven weeks and 45 games into the season—where unanticipated struggles can’t simply be explained away as small sample size randomness. Indeed, the Red Sox clearly had some holes to fill on their roster, and bringing back Stephen Drew checks off a number of needs.
Here is how Drew’s signing will give the Red Sox a much-needed boost:
The third base problem is solved
Fans might remember how little production the Red Sox got out of the hot corner last season, and, unfortunately, that has continued into 2014. Cherington’s decision to give Will Middlebrooks another shot at third base backfired, though two DL stints in the early going haven’t helped the 25-year-old’s cause any.
Still, any optimism surrounding Middlebrooks has quickly evaporated after he’s hit .197/.305/.324 with a 74 wRC++ in 82 plate appearances. Dating back to the start of 2013, Middlebrooks is hitting .222/.277/.408. Over the past calendar year, he has the seventh-lowest on-base percentage in baseball (min. 350 plate appearances).
Although Brock Holt has hit well in Pawtucket this season, he is far better suited for a utility role, and the organization isn’t ready to give Garin Cecchini the keys to third base just yet.
That left Drew, who was unlikely to yield the Red Sox a draft pick this June anyway after finding no other suitors nearly two months into the season.
The Red Sox have already stated they will put Drew back at shortstop, and presumably give Xander Bogaerts the bulk of time at third base. Bogaerts will immediately improve Boston’s woeful production at third, and assuming Drew is able to get up to speed quickly, the Red Sox will still have a shortstop who is able to hit his weight at the position.
Boston has even left the door open on the possibility of keeping Middlebrooks, Bogaerts and Drew together in the majors. That idea has some intrigue given Drew’s superiority against right-handers (he has hit .275/.343/.451 against righties in his career) and Middlebrooks’ impressive numbers versus left-handers (.288/.342/.491 for his career).
The infield defense will improve
Bogaerts has done remarkably well for a 21-year-old shortstop in his rookie season, but his defense still remained a question mark. Nearly two months of evidence isn’t enough time to trust fielding metrics, though Bogaerts had subpar ratings according to both defensive runs saved (-2) and UZR (-0.4).
There is no denying that Bogaerts’ range, his biggest question mark at short, is not on the same level as Drew’s, even if the Aruban native has looked better at short in May than he did in April.
Bringing in Drew gives the Red Sox an above average defender at short and slides Bogaerts to third where his lack of range is less of a problem. To be sure, moving Bogaerts off shortstop isn’t a positive step in his development at the position, yet the club remains committed to him there in the future, and he will likely still see some time at short anyhow.
For Cherington, fielding the best possible team now, with the AL East weakened and wide open, outweighed Bogaerts missing four months of development time at shortstop.
The lineup will be better against righties
One of the persistent themes for the Red Sox this season has been their struggles on offense, especially against right-handed pitching.
Boston is batting .240/.321/.365 with a wRC++ of 88 against right-handers, as the club simply hasn’t been able to replace the production of Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Add in Daniel Nava’s demotion to Triple-A, and the Red Sox were clearly in need of help against righties.
Drew will immediately lengthen the lineup, and Nava might not be too far from returning either. The 31-year-old is hitting .283/.400/.472 versus righties down in Pawtucket, and given his recent track record, Nava should be an adequate platoon option once again.
Ultimately what Drew’s signing comes down to is that the Red Sox brass recognized the need for more talent on the big league roster. In a season in which Boston has turned to multiple youngsters to fill big roles, Cherington finally added a veteran in a move that will improve the team now rather than in the future.
Some of this is due to underperformance, but the current AL East landscape is another reason for signing Drew. No club looks likely to run away with the division, and the Red Sox have as much talent and pitching depth as anyone. With Drew now in the fold, Boston’s outlook has only improved.