It took them long enough, but shortstop Stephen Drew and the Red Sox have finally reunited via a one-year contract worth roughly $10 million. The 31-year-old Drew hit .253/.333/.433 as the starting shortstop for the world champion Red Sox last year, but declined the team's qualifying offer as a free agent in the offseason. That decision meant that any other team that signed Drew this winter would have had to sacrifice their top unprotected draft pick in order to do so, and that added cost dried up the market for Drew's services entirely, leaving him unsigned until Tuesday.
Considered one of the top shortstops on the market, Drew watched fellow free agent Jhonny Peralta, who did not receive a qualifying offer from the Tigers, sign a four-year, $53 million contract with the Cardinals around Thanksgiving, then waited for his turn. It never came. As a result, he has re-signed with Boston, which won't have to surrender a draft pick as they are re-signing their own player, for a pro-rated portion of the $14.1 million qualifying offer.
Why now? Well, by waiting until after Opening Day to sign a one-year deal, Drew is not eligible to be offered a qualifying offer again this November, giving him a second shot at the free agency opportunity that offer robbed him of this past winter. The Red Sox, meanwhile, just lost third baseman Will Middlebrooks to a fractured right index finger on Friday; Middlebrooks previously missed 19 games in April with a calf strain, but that was a minor injury by comparison. The Red Sox currently have no projection as to how much time Middlebrooks will miss.
Therefore, with Drew back in place, the Red Sox will likely move rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts to third base, the position he played for them in last year's postseason and one many believe will be Bogaerts' eventual position in the majors as well, though he has played a solid shortstop for them thus far this season. Drew thus effectively fills the Red Sox's hole at third base, and not a moment too soon.
Underlining the absurdity of Drew's on-going free agency prior to this signing, third base has been the Red Sox's weakest position in what has thus far been a disappointing season for Boston. Middlebrooks hasn't hit much even when healthy, and his injuries have left the position in the hands of Brock Holt, Jonathan Herrera, and Ryan Roberts, the last of whom was signed in the wake of Middlebrooks' calf strain then outrighted off the 40-man roster just two weeks later. Those four have combined to hit a mere .194/.302/.273 on the season.
The Red Sox didn't need to endure that lack of production, but they did, for 43 games, more than a quarter of the season. That's not the entire reason that they are currently in fourth place with a record three games below .500, but it certainly helped them sink to that depth. Drew, whose 2013 season was representative of his career numbers, represents a significant upgrade for Boston, who despite the losing record is just three games out of first place in the AL East. Drew won't right the Red Sox's ship all by himself, but allowing him to remain unsigned in the wake of the team's miserable performance at third base would have constituted negligence on Boston's part.
Remarkably, Drew is not the last of the free agents to decline a qualifying offer to sign, nor did he settle for the least among the free agents with draft pick compensation attached to their names. Despite missing a quarter of the season, Drew still signed for more than the $8 million that Nelson Cruz accepted from the Orioles in late February, though unlike the Red Sox, the Orioles did have to surrender a draft pick for Cruz. Meanwhile, first baseman and designated hitter Kendrys Morales, who declined a qualifying offer from the Mariners in November after a season in which he hit 23 home runs with a 123 OPS+, is still out there with very little speculation surrounding him outside of a recent Orioles rumor that Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette quickly quashed. That said, Seattle's current DH, Corey Hart, was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday with a grade 2 strain of his left hamstring, an injury which could create a similar opportunity for Morales to return to his old team.