The faith the Red Sox had in their young infielders had an expiration date of 43 games.
Stephen Drew, the shortstop who helped the Sox win the World Series, agreed to a one-year, $10.2 million deal Tuesday, a prorated version of the $14.1 million contract he rejected in November.
“To have that experience and that dependability, I think it’ll go a long way to stabilize the left side of the infield,” manager John Farrell said.
Drew will be at Fenway Park Wednesday for a physical and should be added to the roster.
He then would agree to be optioned to Triple A Pawtucket. Once Drew clears option waivers, he could start playing in the minors as soon as Friday.
The Sox believe Drew would need 25 plate appearances over 8-10 days before returning to the majors. The free agent has not played since Game 6 of the Series.
Given that the Red Sox are 20-24 and have lost five straight, that timetable could be sped up.
For 21-year-old rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts, the return of Drew will move him to third base. His development at shortstop has been put on hold.
“My heart is always at shortstop. They felt we’re a better team with him so they went out and got him,” Bogaerts said.
For 25-year-old third baseman Will Middlebrooks, it’s another sign the organization has lost faith in him after a strong rookie season in 2012. Middlebrooks, who is on the disabled list with a fractured right ring finger, is no better than a backup now, if that, and could be traded or sent to the minors.
“We’re still about winning every day. This improves our team once Stephen comes back to us,” Farrell said.
The 31-year-old Drew hit .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs for the Sox last season. Drew was particularly effective against righthanded pitchers, hitting .284 with an .875 OPS and should help improve what has been a weakness for the offensively challenged Red Sox.
Drew spent spring training working out in Miami with several other unsigned clients of agent Scott Boras before returning to his home in Georgia and continuing his workouts at Valdosta State.
Although Drew had a strong season in 2013, he found few takers in free agency. The Mets, Yankees, Tigers, and other teams had interest in Drew but not for the multi-year deal Boras was seeking.
Because the Red Sox made him a qualifying offer, signing Drew also would have cost a team its highest unprotected draft pick. The Red Sox were the only team that could sign Drew without forfeiting a draft pick.
Drew is exempt from the qualifying offer after the season and can return to free agency unfettered.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who was not available for comment Tuesday, said over the weekend the Sox had not lost faith in their plan to build around prospects. But a deal with Drew came together Monday following a three-game sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. The Sox scored only three runs in those games.
The Sox also had to act quickly as Drew would have been a more attractive candidate to sign after next month’s draft when compensation would not have been an issue.
With the American League East a tight race, a four-month commitment to Drew made sense.
Bogaerts is hitting .270 with a .770 OPS — third among AL shortstops — and improved defensively in recent weeks.
Farrell said the Sox were merely “satisfied” with how Bogaerts was playing at shortstop. Bogaerts played nine games at third base last season and 11 more in the postseason.
“At times we’ll be running out that World Series infield. That’s going to be a comfort zone for guys,” left fielder Jonny Gomes said.
Farrell had a closed-door meeting in his office with Bogaerts before the Sox fell to the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-4.
“Just wanted to be a little bit ahead of things and what it might mean to his positioning as we go forward,” Farrell said. “Likely he goes to third base, particularly against righthanded starters. It’s also going to depend on who’s on this team once Stephen comes back to us.”
Farrell suggested Bogaerts could play shortstop against lefthanders.
“We still see Xander as a shortstop. That was explained very clearly to Xander,” he said. “This shouldn’t take away, in his mind, what our long-term view of him is. Xander’s still a very good-looking young player and a good-looking young shortstop.”
Middlebrooks has hit .222 with a .629 OPS in 115 games since the start of the 2013 season and been on the disabled list three times. He declined comment on Drew’s return.
Farrell acknowledged that the veteran players wanted Drew back.
“We’ve added a very good player to improve this team. That’s the one thing that Ben and ownership have repeatedly shown, when a need exists they’ll do whatever is capable and what’s available at a given time to improve the team,” he said.
“He’s an above-average defender, we lived that a year ago. He played an exceptional shortstop, particularly in October.”
Said Shane Victorino: “We’re excited; the team’s excited. The guys are excited to have not only a good player but a character guy.
Gomes said the players formed a bond with Drew last season during the run to the World Series.
“There’s a little bit of the brotherhood that was missing,” he said. “It’ll be nice to see his face. There’s a lot of teams that would like to have that guy, not only ours.”