As the most versatile of the remaining big-name free agents, Stephen Drew is a player who could help several teams. Alas, some combination of his contract demands and the qualifying offer attached to his signing has limited the number of clubs interested in him, and the veteran shortstop remains unsigned even as camps have opened.
After playing just 86 games in 2011 and 79 in 2012, mostly due to a fractured ankle suffered in the former season that required surgery and kept him out for nearly a year, Drew played 124 games in 2013 and helped the Red Sox win the World Series. Though he missed the first week of the season recovering from a concussion and lost three weeks to a hamstring injury in June and July, when he was available, his work at the plate and in the field was consistent with his 2008-10 performance. He hit .253/.333/.443 with 13 homers and was solid in the field (-2 runs according to Defensive Runs Saved, +5 according to Ultimate Zone Rating), finishing the year with 3.1 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball-Reference.com's version. Though just 6-for-54 in the postseason, he sparkled afield and ended October on a high note, homering off the Cardinals' Michael Wacha in Game 6 of the World Series, helping the Sox clinch the title.
Drew will be 31 on March 16 and made $9.5 million last year. Represented by agent Scott Boras, he's said to be seeking an opt-out after the first year of any multi-year contract; understandably, that's a sticking point which could limit his options. What follows is a look at the teams that have been connected to him this winter, and some that perhaps should be.
Boston Red Sox
Drew declined Boston's qualifying offer of $14.1 million, but by making it, the Sox gave themselves the inside track on signing him, if only because he won't cost them a draft pick if they bring him back. The team is planning to turn shortstop duties over to top prospect Xander Bogaerts, but so long as Drew is unsigned, the possibility remains that he could return and that Boston could start the year as it ended 2013, with Drew at shortstop and Bogaerts manning third base — a position where some talent evaluators feel he'll wind up eventually anyway — at the expense of Will Middlebrooks.
General manager Ben Cherington and several Red Sox players have remained in touch with Drew, and the decision of Ryan Dempster to sit out 2014 has freed up a considerable chunk of change that could be used to retain him. However, the Sox are said to be interested only in a one-year deal, perhaps with a low-value player option for the second year, a move that would lower the team's luxury tax hit. That's the approach Boston took with Adrian Beltre; he had a $9 million deal for 2010 with a $5 million option for 2011, which he chose to decline in order to sign a five-year, $80 million with Texas.
New York Yankees
With Derek Jeter headed into his final season, no obvious successor on the roster or in the farm system and second and third base an unsettled jumble involving Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Scott Sizemore, Drew would make more sense for the Yankees via a multiyear deal than for most other teams. In signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, New York has already lost its number one pick as well as the compensation picks produced by the departures of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, so Drew would only cost them a second-round pick, number 56 overall.
Even so, on Sunday the New York Post's Joel Sherman reported that the Yankees aren't considering adding any more free agents via major league deals. Perhaps that stance will change — particularly because they're apparently just past the $189 million luxury tax threshold, and there's no point in missing the mark by just a little instead of blowing well past it while upgrading their chance of returning to the postseason.
New York Mets
After solid showings in 2011 and '12 (.287/.345/.345 combined en route to 3.1 WAR), Ruben Tejada appeared to have a hold on the Mets' shortstop job. However, he showed up to camp out of shape last spring, had his work ethic questioned and wound up spending more time in Triple A than the majors before suffering a season-ending fibula fracture. He played in just 57 games for New York, and his performance sank below replacement level; he hit .202/.259/.260 and put up −0.9 WAR.
Drew would represent a significant upgrade for the Mets, who despite their financial constraints have shown a willingness to jump into the free agent market this winter, signing Granderson and Bartolo Colon. With their 10th pick protected, signing Drew would only cost them a third round pick, number 85 overall. Indeed, the team is believed to be Drew's top suitor, willing to consider a two- or three-year deal, but the opt-out clause is a dealbreaker. Particularly in a year where .500 might be their ceiling, there's little sense in the Mets' adding salary for a one-year upgrade.
Baltimore has yet to be connected to Drew, but suddenly, it makes sense as a destination. The team has needs in the infield given the possibility of third baseman Manny Machado starting the year on the disabled list, the pending free agency of starting shortstop J.J. Hardy and the bargain-basement nature of its situation at second base, where Jemile Weeks, Ryan Flaherty, Alexi Casilla, Alex Gonzalez and others don't offer much hope.
Despite sitting on his hands for most of the winter to the point that the Orioles received a D in our Winter Report Card series, general manager Dan Duquette's success in singing international free agents — including Korean righty Suk-Min Yoon — have emboldened him to consider relinquishing draft picks; the signing of Ubaldo Jimenez cost them the number 17 selection, and the next pick in play is number 55.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have Hanley Ramirez locked in at shortstop, and until they know what they're getting with regards to Cuban import Alex Guerrero's ability to transition to second base, they bear watching when it comes to Drew. Their other keystone alternatives — Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, Brendan Harris and Miguel Rojas — could give Baltimore a run for its money in terms of mediocrity. Drew has never played second base professionally, so it would take a willingness to move on his part, but the money would be a drop in the bucket for Los Angeles, which wouldn't be dissuaded by an opt-out move after the first year.
It's possible that GM Ned Colletti might still be chafed over the decision by Drew's older brother, J.D., to opt out of his contract with L.A. after the 2006 season, but that hasn't been an impediment to hammering out deals with Boras for Guererro, Hyun-Jin Ryu and others.
Toronto Blue Jays
Back in late January, Toronto was said to be "in the mix" for Drew, presumably as an upgrade at second base and a potential insurance option in case shortstop Jose Reyes gets hurt again. After an inactive winter in which catcher Dioner Navarro was their only notable addition, the Blue Jays are heading into the season with rookie Ryan Goins (.252/.264/.345 in 121 PA last year) as the favorite to start at second, with free agent disappointment Maicer Izturis (.236/.288/.310 in 399 PA) in reserve. The Jays' first two picks (numbers nine and 11 overall, the latter compensation for not signing last year's top pick) are both protected, so signing Drew or another qualifying offer free agent — they've been flirting with Ervin Santana — would cost them only the number 49 pick. They have a glaring need in the rotation, so if they do add both, the second would only cost them the 84th pick.