MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Six days a week, for about five hours a day, Stephen Drew takes to the baseball field at St. Thomas University with fellow major league free agent Kendrys Morales and coach Alex Ochoa.
They go through a simulated spring training routine: batting practice, agility drills, fielding practice. All that’s missing are the uniforms and the games.
Drew wears a lot of his Red Sox stuff, Morales a lot of his Mariners stuff.
If he were signed tomorrow, Drew said, he would be ready to play, he wouldn’t miss a step. But the story here is that he is missing a step — spring training with a major league baseball team.
What is the culprit in his current plight: his rejection of the Red Sox’ qualifying offer for $14.1 million or the system that requires draft-pick compensation for top free agents?
In the last two seasons, every baseball free agent who has been given a qualifying offer has turned it down.
Does Drew regret it?
“I wish I had a crystal ball so I could read these things into the future,” said Drew, never answering the question directly. “I trust my talent.”
Does he think he’ll play baseball this season?
“Yes, I do,” he said. “I have too much talent and the ability to help a team to think I’m not going to play baseball this year.
“I don’t know where that’s going to be, to be honest with you, but I felt I had my best defensive year last year in the major leagues. I was a year removed from the [ankle] injury and unfortunately I had the concussion that I didn’t recover from for 2½ months before I got it right. I drove in more runs than I had in any year of my career.”
Would he like that call to come from the Red Sox?
“I enjoyed the time in Boston and getting to play in the World Series and getting to play with those guys and the great clubhouse we had,” he said. “It was one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with.”
Drew, who made $9.5 million with the Red Sox last season, played great defense and helped his team win a World Series championship. Why wouldn’t he envision a multiyear deal as he became a free agent?
“After we won the World Series, the qualifying offer is right around the corner,” he said. “We were still doing our duck boat parade. I have a family, and we had to pack up the house and move back home. Once the qualifying offer came, we had seven days. So everything happens really fast and you have to make a quick decision.
“You fight for the right to get to free agency, but then it takes a little bit away with draft-pick compensation attached to it. Nobody wants to give up that draft pick.
“It’s unusual because I’m an experienced player, but because there’s a draft pick hanging over your head, it’s not really the free agency without strings attached. So that’s the dilemma, and here we are.”
His ex-teammates regularly text or phone him. They offer encouragement, a few “wish you were still here” sentiments. He appreciates it. Yet he knows there isn’t anything the players can do.
“Looking back, I’d love it,” Drew said of a return to the Red Sox. “With the guys there and the chemistry, they know what I’m about and I know what they’re about.
“The chemistry Pedey [Dustin Pedroia] and I had was tremendous. We did a lot of things during the game to make adjustments defensively and I thought we had a very good year.
“But it’s a business. It would be great to go back there. The owners, management, maybe that’s something they want to do different. That’s all I can think of.”
The Red Sox seem to be going with Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, and Drew acknowledges he is going to be a great player.
“You could see his poise in the World Series, the way he approached the game and his at-bats,” said Drew. “There’s no denying what a great talent he is.”
Drew is making the most of his new routine. Ochoa, who was Boston’s first base coach under Bobby Valentine, joined the Scott Boras Corporation last season, and he manages the Boras training facility where Drew and Morales are training.
“I feel strong,” said Drew. “I feel like I’m moving well. I’m working out and we’ll see what happens.
“It’s crazy being in the league for eight years and being in this situation. I know I hit a slump in the World Series and you never want to get into a slump in the World Series. But I thought I played good defense when it counted. I thought I helped save runs.
“Like I said, I thought it was my best defensive year. I learned the hitters, knew their tendencies, studied the charts. Pedey and I worked so well together, and I know how hard it’s been for him going through so many shortstops since he’s been there.
“I went through something similar in Arizona with second basemen. You get used to a guy, you develop chemistry and then there’s a change made. It’s tough.”
The pitching staff completely trusted Drew behind them. Jake Peavy said he hoped Drew would be re-signed.
He wasn’t flashy, but he was as steady as they came. If one of his throws was off, Mike Napoli was there for him at first base.
“I give Nap a lot of credit,” said Drew. “He got really good at it. When you have a guy you feel comfortable with at first base, it makes such a difference.
“Once in a while, you’re going to have to make the long hop throw and the first baseman knows that. Sometimes in that hole, that long hop throw he’s going to have to pick for you. Mike was great at that.
“But I took a lot of pride in my throwing. I worked on it throughout my career. I think most of my throws are chest-high to the first baseman. My defense is something I take pride in. Our whole team was so good defensively. It just creates a lot of confidence for the pitching staff.”
St. Thomas is a quiet, pristine place. It’s nice here, and for now it’s where Stephen Drew plays his baseball.
“Of course I’d rather be in a major league camp,” Drew said. “You have a short window to play baseball. I feel I’m in my best years right now. I’ve never been healthier and I think my game has evolved. I wish I was playing baseball, but I’ll be patient until something comes along.”
And if he has to play second base?
“Maybe, if I have to,” he said. “But I’m a shortstop. I think I can play the position pretty well.”
And at some point, there will be a team that thinks so, too.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.