LOS ANGELES — He grows on you, doesn’t he? Stephen Drew.
From the start we wondered why the Red Sox didn’t give the shortstop job to Jose Iglesias for the next 10 years. The Red Sox probably should have done that, but I can now see what the fascination is with Drew.
“Now that his ankle is sound, he’s probably playing the best shortstop of his career,” said Drew’s agent, Scott Boras.
Of course Mr. Boras would say that. He also would like to see Drew return to the Red Sox next season and beyond. He thinks the fit is tremendous. And before you hem and haw about that, remember Boras also represents Xander Bogaerts and Iglesias.
Boras sees Bogaerts as a third baseman because the 20-year-old keeps growing — he’s currently 6 feet 3 inches, 210 pounds. That may just be an agent evaluating his client, but it’s also an agent who knows the game and knows the rosters of teams inside and out. Boras is an ex-professional baseball player who watches every game and every team from his suites at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium.
“Yeah, I’d like to stay here,” said Drew, who signed a one-year, $9.5-million deal. “But I’m not focusing on that until the end of the season. I’ve enjoyed the way things have gone and the fact I’m trying to help this team. I love this team and the guys on it. I think we all work well together and right now we’re all focused on getting to the playoffs. We have a tough road ahead and I think being all together is going to help us get through that. That’s why I don’t want to talk about next year except to say, I would absolutely love to come back here.”
To make that happen, the Red Sox would have to agree with Boras — and a lot of the time they do.
That would create an infield of Dustin Pedroia at second, Drew at shortstop, Bogaerts at third, and Will Middlebrooks — or somebody else — at first.
The best thing about Drew is he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s made only six errors. Third base/infield coach Brian Butterfield calls him “vanilla.”
“That’s the way I like my shortstops,’’ Butterfield said. “He makes the right decisions. He doesn’t take risks. He does what he feels he can do. He can make a play on the run as well as any shortstop I’ve ever seen. His throws, whether he’s on balance or off balance, are always on the money.
“I saw him bobble a ball and then throw a guy out the other day and you’re shocked when he doesn’t field a ball cleanly because he’s so consistent. I’m a big fan.”
Manager John Farrell and others have always spoken highly of Drew. You would think: Are you kidding? It’s time to play Iglesias. If Iglesias were still in a Red Sox uniform, I would say the same thing. But the Red Sox solved that issue by trading him to the Tigers, a potential playoff opponent.
I asked Drew if it was uncomfortable playing shortstop when the enormously gifted Iglesias was playing third base and many believed Iglesias should have been the shortstop?
“No, not all,” Drew said. “Jose is a tremendous defensive player. He was fun to watch. He did a great job for us.”
Drew just wanted to take care of his own game and put his gruesome ankle injury behind him.
“He left his career on the field for the Diamondbacks,” Boras said. “People just don’t realize how severe that was and that it needed time to heal.” And that’s where Drew was the victim of criticism from Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick who publicly scolded Drew for taking too long to recover. The Diamondbacks eventually moved Drew to the Athletics.
Drew enjoyed a good couple of months there and a brief playoff appearance in Oakland. He had the chance to return to the A’s and a few other teams that had interest but he decided on Boston because, “the tradition, a place where baseball was important.”
His only regret was that he suffered a concussion early in spring training and missed so much time. His first 80-100 at-bats upon his return seemed like spring training to him. Now he’s hitting the ball with authority and consistency and Butterfield said, “It’s not my area of concentration, but I would say he’s hitting the baseball as well as anyone on our team right now.”
His numbers are starting to perk up. His .755 OPS is seventh among shortstops with at least 300 plate appearances, though he trails Iglesias by 7 points. His 2.2 WAR is slightly better than Iglesias’s 1.9. Drew, who was mired in the .220s for a long time, is up to .247 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs.
“I’m just happy that I’ve broken through the slow start,” Drew said. “It was frustrating there for a while because I thought I was hitting the ball hard, but nothing to show for it. Now hits are starting to fall in.”
And his defense has been impeccable.
His throws are always chest high.
“For me that’s the one thing you can control out there. Once you field the ball, you can control the throw you make to first base, so I try to make the best throw I can,’’ said Drew. “It’s about always being in the right arm slot and I think I’ve been able to find an arm slot that works for me and be consistent with it.”
His range has also been good. His UZR is nowhere near that of the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons (23.4) or even the Rays’ Yunel Escobar (10.9). He’s a very average 1.9, but that doesn’t seem to tell the full story because there have been few times that a ball has beaten him into the 5-6 hole or up the middle that you would say, “Oh, he should have had that” or “Iglesias would have made that look routine.”
“It’s his dependability,” Butterfield said. “He studies video, he knows hitters. His positioning is tremendous. He just knows how to play. He’s a ballplayer.”
Nothing flashy. Not the greatest.
But he grows on you. And he’s a player the Red Sox may re-sign.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.