So there. The free-falling Red Sox are not giving up on the season, after all. They are not going to commit consumer fraud by selling “championship-driven” when they are actually giving you a bridge year. They are not going to pretend they are smarter than everybody else, just because things went perfectly last season.
They are not going to be hard-headed. They are willing to admit a mistake.
The Xander Bogaerts-at-short/Will Middlebrooks-at-third experiment was officially dissolved Tuesday when the Red Sox re-signed Stephen Drew as their shortstop for the remainder of the 2014 season.
This is a good move, and I’m not just saying that because John Henry (a.k.a. “greatest person ever”) owns the Boston Globe. It’s a good move because it makes the Sox better for the rest of this season. It’s an indication that — despite the dreadful start to this title defense — the Sox know the American League East is up for grabs and they are still going for it this year.
“It was an effort to make this team stronger and to get us into contention this year,’’ said Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino. “We know that no one move does it by itself, but this was a good start.’’
The staggering Sox charge the highest prices in baseball and promote themselves as smarter-than-the-average-bears. That’s OK as long as you back it up with payroll and action. Bringing Drew back tells fans that the front office is not content to stand still and count gate receipts while the Pink Hats sing “Sweet Caroline.’’
Bringing back Drew is also a good move because it cleans up the Sox infield defense, which has been super sloppy through the first quarter of the season.
It’s a good move because the Sox players love what Drew brings to the park every day. They love his professionalism. The pitchers love the notion that there will be no adventures on the left side.
The Sox won a World Series with Drew at shortstop last season. It’s not always fun to watch him at the plate (4 for 39 in the ALCS and World Series), but shortstop is not a position that demands offense.
Drew is the slow and steady fire. He makes every routine play and some spectacular plays. He brings comfort and peace of mind to his manager and the pitching staff.
The move is not without drawbacks, of course (not just because the maniacal Scott Boras is involved). Playing infield yo-yo with a prospect of Bogaerts’s ability is risky business. I covered the Orioles when Earl Weaver made the decision to move Cal Ripken Jr. from third base to shortstop. Weaver always wanted power guys at defensive positions (he tried Eddie Murray behind the plate in spring training of 1978) and argued that Ripken was athletic enough for short, even though many baseball people thought Ripken was too big.
Two decades and a couple of thousand consecutive games later, Weaver’s genius was validated.
But there was never any back and forth with Cal Jr. The move was made and that was that. Bogaerts has no such luxury.
We don’t know where Bogaerts ultimately will land, but we know that he’s already been moved too many times and now he’s strapped with the perception that he failed at short this season (an image more deeply cemented when he air-mailed a routine throw over Mike Napoli’s head in the first inning Tuesday night. He made a fielding error in the fifth).
Bogaerts is unusually mature for 21, but it can’t be fun to get a 40-game tryout, then see your predecessor return while your manager says, “We had a need and went out and filled it.’’
The Sox, who have lost five straight, told Bogaerts the job was his this spring. They told him to work at short and nowhere else. Tuesday they had him taking grounders at third base.
John Farrell met with Bogaerts before addressing the media.
“We still see Xander as a shortstop, and that was explained to him,’’ said the manager.
Maybe. Maybe not. Drew is here for the rest of this season only, and we no doubt will spend the rest of the year speculating about the Sox’ shortstop plan for 2015.
Which brings us to Middlebrooks. He’s only 25. He has hit 34 big league homers in 190 big league games. Bill James insists he’s a 30-homer, 100-RBI guy, but Middlebrooks is living south of the Mendoza Line (.197) while getting a reputation as injury-prone.
This early-season infield shakeup is an indictment of Middlebrooks, not Bogaerts. Middlebrooks’s place in the Boston organization has never been less stable.
Stephen Drew is not a savior, but he makes the Sox better than they were yesterday. It’s a move that improves the product on the field and demonstrates some nice urgency from the executive level.