Forget what’s the fascination with [insert Drew here]? The question the Red Sox should be asked is what’s the unceasing infatuation with offensive shortstops?
The latest model is Stephen Drew, brother of J.D. The Shortstop Drew received a one-year, $9.5 million deal from the Sox on Monday, coming off a season in which he hit .223 with a .309 on-base percentage and a .657 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) in 79 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. That doesn’t sound like an offensive shortstop, but that’s what Drew is with his career .762 OPS.
Of Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington’s profligate payments this offseason, Drew is the most dubious because it perpetuates an approach that has created a long-running shortcoming at shortstop.
If a telemarketer called Fenway Park with an offer that included the words “offensive shortstop,” they could have every credit card number in baseball operations in no time. The term might even be the password to Carmine. The Red Sox collect these guys like refrigerator magnets, at least those always end up sticking.
All you need to know is that since the franchise fate-altering trade of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004, the player who has started the most games at shortstop is Julio Lugo (245) — signed the same offseason as J.D. Drew — the epitome of the team’s missteps at the position.
It’s simple, when the Red Sox have chosen shortstops based on their defensive prowess it has worked out reasonably well. Think Orlando Cabrera as a defensive upgrade in the Garciaparra trade in 2004, and Alex Gonzalez, who made just seven errors in 2006.
When they’ve gone for offense-oriented players, their evaluations have been as off the mark as one of those errant sidearm, sidewinder missiles from Nomie.
Edgar Renteria made the final out of the 2004 World Series for the Cardinals against the Red Sox. He then signed a four-year, $40 million deal with Boston and looked out of place. He lasted one season, in which he made a major-league high 30 errors.
The Sox signed Lugo to a four-year, $36 million deal before the 2007 season, even though he had hit .219 with the Los Angeles Dodgers after a deadline deal. He proved to be an injury prone, ineffective disappointment. The Sox had to pay the Cardinals to take him away.
Last year, after the Sox traded Marco Scutaro, a steady offensive and defensive shortstop, in a salary dump, they tabbed Mike Aviles. His bat was good early, but went cold. Aviles ended up with a .282 on-base percentage and .381 slugging percentage.
That brings us to Drew. The 29-year-old has a résumé with two full seasons in which he posted an OPS above .800. In his last healthy season, 2010, Drew was .278/.352/.810, with 60 extra-base hits. His allure is that he can recapture that offensive output.
On a team clearly undergoing a transition phase — a free agent bailout package bridge year — the most logical play would be to see what Jose Iglesias, a spell-binding magician with the glove, can do at shortstop. The Cuban defector is entering the final year of the four-year, $8.25 million deal with the Sox.
Iglesias batted an anemic .118 in 77 plate appearances last season and made Mark Belanger look like Cal Ripken Jr. The youngster was ignominiously pinch hit for in the middle of a 2-and-2 count by Bobby Valentine against Toronto in September.
But why not find out once and for all whether Iglesias can hit? If Iglesias were to develop this year, then the Sox could have a surfeit at a position where there is a perpetual shortage. Whomever the 2013 Sox shortstop is, he is only a placeholder until uber-prospect Xander Bogaerts is ready to assume the position in 2014.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The Red Sox are living in it because now that the Steroid Era is over, so are the days of the quotidian .800 OPS shortstop. The time of 37-home run seasons from the likes of Rich Aurilia (look it up, 2001) are a deluded, antediluvian notion.
Last year, there was only one shortstop in Major League Baseball that played 100 or more games and posted an OPS above .800 — Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals (.845).
The number was nine in 2006. It was six in 2007 and 2008. It was five in 2009. It was three in 2010. It went up to four in 2011, as J.J. Hardy barely made the cut (.801 OPS.)
The Golden Age of offense at shortstop was ushered in 16 years and hundreds of drug tests ago, 1996.
It was Derek Jeter’s rookie year. It was Alex Rodriguez’s first full major league season. A-Rod won the American League batting title with a .358 average and slugged 36 home runs. His OPS was 1.045. It was also the season Nomar Garciaparra made his major league debut, giving rise to what would be known as the Holy Trinity of shortstops.
A year later Miguel Tejada, who would win an MVP award in 2002, made his major league debut.
From 1996 to 2006, there were 17 instances where a shortstop posted an OPS of .900 or above while playing in 100 games. Bill Hall (2006), later a utility player for the Sox, and Michael Young (2005), each posted .899 OPS seasons.
Since 2007 this feat has been accomplished six times, three each by Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, which explains why the Red Sox were always lusting after their former prospect like a heartbroken ex.
You don’t see muscle-bound shortstops shirtless on the cover of Sports Illustrated these days like they’re posing for the cover of a romance novel.
But the Red Sox’ love affair with the offensive shortstop goes on.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.