The wait may pay off for Stephen Drew
No, he’s not the savior. He may not save the Red Sox’ season. But he adds stability, he is a strong link to the 2013 team, a great clubhouse guy, a guy who is respected by the manager, the coaches, the players, and the front office.
Did the Red Sox have to give Stephen Drew the prorated version of the $14.1 qualifying offer he turned down? Probably not. But they did, out of good will, out of respect. They did because he was the player everyone wanted back.
When I saw him in Miami in March, Drew never blamed anyone for his situation — much to the dismay of the Scott Boras bashers who believe the agent did a terrible job in handling both Drew and Kendrys Morales.
Drew, 31, echoed this Wednesday: He wanted to be a free agent, a right he had earned as a player who had toiled in the major leagues for 7½ years. And he rolled the dice, feeling he’d get a multiyear deal. As he said then and as he said again Wednesday, “I believed in my talent.” And he should have.
Mike Napoli said he had never seen a shortstop make such pinpoint-accurate throws from virtually any position or angle, off balance or not.
When he was away, Dustin Pedroia was a frequent lobbyist for his return; for of all the shortstop partners Pedroia has had in Boston — 17 of them — he never worked so well as he did with Drew.
At one point, the pitchers jokingly said they were taking up a collection to get Drew back. That was no offense to Xander Bogaerts, but everyone knew deep down that Bogaerts should be at third base and Drew at shortstop. And now that has finally happened.
Drew might be $4 million short in the wallet, but he’s making the same $10 million (actually $10.2 million) he made last season. Now if he has a decent year, there will be no qualifying offer to weigh him down. By not playing to start the season, Drew no longer is eligible for a qualifying offer, a loophole Boras found in the new basic agreement.
A wise man once said, “In confusion there is profit.” And it may work out for Drew better than anyone thought.
He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. No compensation required. Did he sacrifice $4 million now to make more in the future? Maybe that wasn’t the intent, but it could work out that way.
Nelson Cruz, for instance, settled for a one-year, $8 million deal with Baltimore after he turned down a qualifying offer from Texas. Cruz will have to go through the same process next offseason, when Baltimore will likely tender him a qualifying offer, which could be in the $15 million range. He will likely refuse and then hope that at age 34, he can get the multiyear deal he didn’t get this season.
Drew worked out at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens at the Boras Sports Institute with coach Alex Ochoa, Morales, and, for a while, pitcher Freddy Garcia. They worked on fundamentals and took grounders and batting practice.
“Eighty ground balls a day,” said Drew. “By myself.”
He simulated the playing process. He then left Miami Gardens and trained closer to his Georgia home at Valdosta State University, where he worked with the baseball team and played in scrimmages.
“I really tried to think about what it would be like,” he said. “It’s a tough position. I know I worked hard. I know there’s nothing I have to worry about there. I put all the time I needed to be ready for this moment because I knew it would happen quick.”
He could have waited until after the amateur draft — when there would be no compensation due for signing him —
The Red Sox also spoke to him about something beyond this season, but Drew is focused on playing this one, then hitting the open market again without the restrictions.
“All I wanted to do was in the offseason be a true free agent,” Drew said. “With that draft pick, I guess that draft pick was a huge, huge part in that. So yes, it was hard, but at the same time it’s one of those deals where I really wanted to be a true free agent at the end of this year.”
It was amazing how many people asked, “How could he have turned down $14.1 million?” But those are comments made by people who have never been a professional athlete, never seen it from that point of view.
So now the build-up to playing starts. By Friday, after he has cleared optional waivers, he gets to go to the Sox minor league system, where he’ll try to get 25 at-bats and play nine innings.
“The biggest issue will be just nine innings,” Drew said. “I haven’t had that in seven months, since the World Series ended. So just a few games there. Get some at-bats.
“I think the biggest thing is just playing on my feet for nine innings for about nine or 10 days.”
There is some awkwardness associated with Drew being aboard. On Wednesday, he spent time in the afternoon chatting with Bogaerts.
The big message from the Red Sox and from Boras, who also represents Bogaerts, was, “This is not about you, it’s about what’s best for the team.”
Boras had a long talk with Bogaerts about the situation and emphasized that this move had nothing to do with the faith the Red Sox have in him. He hoped he got through.
“This move with Stephen is not in any way about a lack of belief that Xander can play short. We’re just trying to make the team better,” said general manager Ben Cherington.
“We’re trying to strengthen the roster, and in fact Xander’s ability to play short and third allowed us to consider different options, different alternatives to do that. Stephen just ended up being the one that made the most sense to us to pursue.”
Even back in February, Drew was hoping they would come back to him. He watched games on TV, got texts from Pedroia and David Ross and Jonny Gomes and people he respected on the team. There were some conversations between Boras and Cherington before the nitty-gritty talks began this week.
“It’s been interesting,” Drew said, “but I’m glad to be back in a Red Sox uniform and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”