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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

As Bogaerts matures, could there still be room for Drew?

Drew shined defensively in the postseason.

The Red Sox finally made David Ortiz a Happy Papi with a contact extension that all but assures the greatest clutch hitter in team history will finish his career as a Red Sox. Now, with Opening Day almost upon us, the Sox have the opportunity to make another move that could help one of their rising stars reach his potential.

Bringing back Stephen Drew.

Sure, Xander Bogaerts may be the best thing since Big Yaz Bread, or at least appeared to be when he took over at third base for a slumping Will Middlebrooks in last year's playoffs, but he's still technically a rookie with just 18 games of regular season experience. He showed tremendous poise and patience in becoming the youngest player (at 21) to ever start a postseason contest for the Red Sox, but he also made an error in Game 4 of the World Series with a rushed throw to first base and hit just .238 with one extra-base hit in six games against the Cardinals. 

This spring training, with the eyes of the baseball world looking on, he's batting .227 with 1 homer after a fairly large sample size of 44 at-bats. He does have 3 triples, but he also has 10 strikeouts.
He may be the future, but we're not there yet.

In other words, he may still be a great prospect, but he's not yet an every-day great player.

He's also about to start his first season as a big-league regular, at one of the game's most demanding positions: shortstop. He's shown excellent hands and range at every level, but he's never played more than 134 games in a campaign (last year, when he played 60 at Portland, 56 at Pawtucket, and 18 in Boston). Suiting up in the majors every day is a grind, as he'll soon discover.

Middlebrooks, after some talk of a move to first base, is back at third, apparently for the duration. Bogaerts is slated to be the everyday shortstop, with Jonathan Herrera the likely back-up option. Herrera has 375 games of MLB experience under his belt, but has never been a regular or played in an intense atmosphere like Boston.

Stephen Drew, of course, has done both.
Drew is a Dirt Dog who rebounded well in 2013.

Last year Drew recovered from an awful start at the plate to produce an excellent slash line of .291/.367/.497 in August and September combined as Boston pushed toward the postseason. His overall power totals of 29 doubles, 8 triples, 13 homers, and 67 RBI placed him among the upper tier of American League shortstops offensively, even though he was limited to 124 games by a hamstring injury in mid-season.

Drew's fielding was also very solid. He ranked third among AL shortstops in range factor, second in fielding percentage, and during the playoffs was particularly flashy with the glove -- playing so well defensively that John Farrell kept him in the lineup despite a .111 postseason batting average.

Farrell figured eventually the veteran would come through with the stick, and his patience paid off. Drew led off the fourth inning of Game 6 of the World Series with a home run -- igniting a three-run inning that broke open the clincher for Boston.
In Game 6 versus St. Louis, Drew came through.

His ego boosted by all these positives -- and a money-hungry agent in Scott Boras -- Drew chose as a free agent to turn down Boston's one-year, $14.1 million qualifying contract offer. Surely he figured better deals from other teams would come, but despite persistent rumors of suitors he's still without a home. 

The Sox are gambling on Bogaerts, but since Drew can't seem to find anybody else willing to meet his price, perhaps it's time Ben Cherington finds out if Boras might just take a lower offer. (One reason other teams are hesitant to sign Drew is that they would have to forfeit a draft pick to the Red Sox as compensation.)

Bogaerts may be the future, but Drew has been there and done that -- and would be an excellent insurance policy if the rookie were to struggle early or later on. He may even have a few tips to give the kid after more than 900 games at shortstop. At this point he likely would not mind a backup role as a chance to stay in the majors.
Drew apparently would love to be back.

Would Drew want to come back? He told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe that he would,  saying that "The chemistry Pedey [second baseman Dustin Pedroia] and I had was tremendous. 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."

Cherington and Co. want Bogaerts at short, and they want him there every day. But it's a long season.

Look at it this way: What if the Red Sox had handed left field to Jackie Bradley Jr. last year, and didn't have Shane Victorino to step in when Bradley faltered?

There might not have been a chance for Bogaerts -- or Drew -- to shine in the postseason.

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