The Red Sox announced the signing of Stephen Drew on Dec. 26, 2012. The one-year, $9.5 million deal was seen as a bit of a surprise given the presence of Jose Iglesias in the organization. Drew also had missed much of the previous two season recovering from a gruesome ankle injury.
But it proved to be one of the many prescient moves made by general manager Ben Cherington. Drew started 122 games at shortstop and hit .253 with a .777 OPS. His OPS was second among American League shortstops.
Drew also had strong year defensively. His 5.3 UZR was sixth among AL shortstops. His 3.1 WAR put him fourth in the league at his position.
By almost any measure, Drew was one of the best shortstops in the league. He became a free agent after the season and the Red Sox made him a qualifying offer of one year and $14.1 million.
That also proved to be a smart move. If Drew signs with another team, the Red Sox will receive a supplemental first-round draft pick. If the qualifying offer depresses Drew’s market, the Red Sox will be waiting with another short-term deal.
The qualifying offer has certainly played a role in Drew still being a free agent as Christmas approaches. Drew, Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana remain unsigned, all having been attached to the loss of a draft pick.
Agent Scott Boras insisted at the Winter Meetings that there was a lively market for Drew. But that market has not made itself known several weeks since that statement.
Boras, known for his patience in such matters, could draw the process out into the middle of January. It would be foolish to underestimate his ability to find a team. Boras is one of the best at what he does and he only needs one team to believe.
But as days pass, the odds of Drew returning to the Red Sox increase. The qualifying offer system does not serve second-tier free agents well and Drew has been a victim.
The Red Sox win either way. Either they get a draft pick in what is said to be a deep draft, or they get a productive player back on their terms. One or two more years of Drew would give the team enviable depth on the left side of the infield.
The Sox could play Drew at shortstop with Xander Bogaerts at third base, a combination that helped win the World Series. Will Middlebrooks could simply be returned to Triple A Pawtucket as depth in the event of injury or poor performance.
Or Middlebrooks could be used as part of a trade package. The Red Sox could see what Middlebrooks and Jake Peavy bring back. Or Middlebrooks and John Lackey. Or Middlebrooks and Ryan Dempster. You get the idea.
That package would not return a star player. But it could return some high-end prospects or perhaps a center fielder.
Cherington’s model of creating roster and financial flexibility has served the team well. Drew is a great example of that. A year later, Drew doesn’t know what team he will be on. But the Red Sox know they will benefit somehow.