NEW YORK — In his last 500 at-bats, Stephen Drew is a .212 hitter.
You can counter that by saying that in his last 32 games he’s hitting .250 with 21 RBIs after starting .114 (4 for 35), which was blamed on not having a full spring training.
The Red Sox’ philosophy is that their shortstop needs to hit. And certainly Drew has had his moments. In amassing a .218 average entering Sunday night’s 3-0 rain-shortened win over the Yankees, he went 3 for 5 with two RBIs at Toronto May 1. He went 4 for 5 with three RBIs May 6 vs. the Twins. He went 3 for 4 May 26 vs. the Indians. His average peaked at .245 on May 15.
During garbage time of Boston’s 11-1 win over New York Saturday night, Drew hit a home run. He’s driven in 22 runs, not bad for a guy who started the season later because of concussion issues. Manager John Farrell seems to have a lot of faith in him because he elevated him to sixth in the lineup Sunday night because he entered 8 for 24 vs. Hiroki Kuroda.
Defensively, he’s been very good.
But there’s this recurring issue — Jose Iglesias.
Iglesias is back up with the team temporarily playing third base, but everybody knows his shortstop play is off the charts. (And we’re guessing when he tries his hand at second base — over Dustin Pedroia’s dead body — he’ll be exceptional there as well.)
And a funny thing has happened – Iglesias is hitting. He’s almost doubled Drew’s batting average, with a .431 mark in 51 at-bats entering Sunday night.
Iglesias’s solo home run in the fifth inning off Kuroda gave the Sox a 2-0 lead. That made him 13 for 22 (.590) career vs. the Yankees. Drew was 0 for 3 to drop to .213 before the second rain delay in the sixth.
“It’s fun playing against them,” said Iglesias. “It’s a such a great rivalry. I’m into it. I just wanted to put a good swing on a ball and I got a fastball where I liked it and hit it hard. Just happy to help.”
The new issue for the Red Sox, who gave Drew a contract for $9.5 million this season, is do we continue to make Iglesias a utility player? The Sox seem to have a policy that the veteran doesn’t switch positions for the rookie, and it appears they’re stuck in that mind-set. Thus their best defensive shortstop is playing third base.
Regular third baseman Will Middlebrooks could return from his back injury as soon as next weekend. At that time the Sox must decide whether Iglesias should be kept as their superutility player, which means Pedro Ciriaco’s days on the 25-man roster could be over.
Farrell already has said they’re considering this.
The other consideration is that Iglesias should be playing shortstop every day in Pawtucket if he’s not playing there every day in the majors. Yet the Sox are playing him at third. There’s also the hot Xander Bogaerts, who has hit well at Double A and is likely on the verge of a call up to Triple A. But he won’t go up if Iglesias is playing shortstop at Pawtucket.
These are good decisions to have to make. Yet they’re a little tricky as well.
Who knows, maybe Drew is about to take off and be that 12-15 home run guy who can hit .280, but we haven’t seen that guy with the exception of a few games.
The Sox like Drew’s veteran presence at shortstop, there’s no doubt about that. They expect that he will hit. But if he doesn’t, how long can they keep this going?
One easy answer is indefinitely as long as the team is winning and the rest of the lineup is producing. But if your core philosophy is that the shortstop must hit and Iglesias has been told that not hitting prevented him from being the starting shortstop, then if he continues to hit, you’re going counter to what you have preached.
Currently, the Sox are making special considerations for Drew because of what they’re paying him. And Iglesias, the guy they’ve asked to produce offensively, is doing just that.
That’s why this is tricky. When the team is winning, why fix what’s not broken? Yet if you want to put your players in the best position to succeed in the best interest of the team, then you stick by your guns — the best shortstop (offensively and defensively) should play shortstop.
The Sox hope Middlebrooks, their top third base prospect, returns and turns his season around, too. Middlebrooks has hit eight home runs, three of them in one game vs. Toronto. But his season has been a struggle. Would Iglesias get consideration to play more at third base? When he’s right at the plate, Middlebrooks has the power and run-producing ability Iglesias does not. Once again, you’re putting Iglesias in a tough spot.
If you send him back down, it would be the second time he’s performed very well and then been returned to the minors. And you don’t want him to pout about it? I think we all would pout if we truly believed we belonged in the major leagues and had proved it at two positions.
If the Sox keep Iglesias as a utility guy, that’s not what you had in mind when you gave him an $8.1 million bonus out of Cuba.
You won’t hear Iglesias complain about staying in the majors under any circumstances. He’s a big leaguer. He knows it. The Red Sox know it.
“Any chance to stay in the big leagues is a blessing for me,” said Iglesias. “Of course I would welcome it. I want to stay here. Everybody wants to stay here.”
Everybody knows what nobody wants to say — that Iglesias is the best shortstop on the team. The Sox could try to pretend he isn’t and stick to veteran protocol, keep Drew in place, and wait for those great days amid the 0-for-17s.
Drew was a significant player for the Diamondbacks. And Athletics’ personnel will tell you they wouldn’t have made the playoffs last season without him (though they didn’t re-sign him and traded for Jed Lowrie instead) after they acquired him from Arizona.
The Sox certainly can be patient with Drew, who they feel can help them win a division title. But it’s more about how they handle Iglesias.
This is their own prospect. This is a guy who has an exceptional gift; Drew is a good player only committed to them this year.
There’s this “veteran thing” with Drew, but there’s also this confidence that Iglesias seems to have back that you don’t want to destroy.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.