Boston Red Sox rumors: Stephen Drew edition

So now things get complicated.

The Boston Red Sox gave Stephen Drew a qualifying offer, an offer he denied to test open market. There is no question that this was the right move for Drew. The writing was on the wall that Xander Bogaerts was ready to step into his spot, and there were other teams out there that needed a shortstop. One of them would step up and offer Drew a deal for more years than the Sox were willing to go.

Except no team stepped up.

The St. Louis Cardinals filled their shortstop opening by signing Jhonny Peralta. The Pittsburgh Pirates resigned Clint Barmes to pair with Jordy Mercer. Mets GM Sandy Alderson recently announced he’d like to keep the team payroll in the mid-80s, a decision that, coupled with the signings of Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon, would seemingly leave no room for Drew.

102313_drewDrew’s agent, Scott Boras, insists that he’s made contact with teams who do want to sign the shortstop, and that’s it’s just a matter of the necessary dominoes falling before it happens. There’s a precedent to Boras waiting out the market for the right deal to pop up (like Kyle Lohse last year) but the lack of any real buzz surrounding Drew is troubling, a lot of which must be attributed to the price of draft pick compensation.

The Red Sox have publicly declared their willingness to bring Drew back. But there are issues.

First, the payroll problem. With the Mike Napoli deal, the Red Sox have inched uncomfortably close to the luxury tax, hovering around $180 million. For the Red Sox to sign Drew to a one-year deal (which would absolutely be their preference) they’d need to offer him a bit more cash, which would necessitate the Red Sox to trade their way under the tax barrier (most likely though Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster). That being said, Ben Cherington for the moment prefers the flexibility of his six starting pitchers, as well as the increased trade value once the high-price free agent starters start coming off the board.

imagesA more pressing issue, however, is what role exactly Drew would play on the team. It seems impossible that the Red Sox would send Xander Bogaerts back to the minors after his precociously impressive showing in the playoffs. The Sox could plug in Drew at short and move Bogaerts over to third. But to send Will Middlebrooks to Triple A would be another blow to his confidence after two injury plagued seasons, and the young slugger still has immense power potential, desperately needing a consistent role with the team now that he’s finally healthy.

The third option is to relegate Drew to a platoon/backup role, one that he may be overqualified (and possibly overpaid) for. The Red Sox are in need of a utility infielder, and preferably one that is left-handed. Drew is indeed left-handed, and his noted struggles against left-handers would be minimized if paired with the right-handed Xander Bogaerts.

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If the Red Sox do end up resigning Drew, Farrell may elect to return to his strategy from September, when he rotated between his three infielders depending on the matchup. But still, he would need to be brought back for the right price and contract length. When Jason Varitek, a Boras client, declined his qualifying offer at one year/$11mil, he later came back to the Sox for 1 year/$5mil when the market proved inhospitable, something that may still happen with Drew.

Either way, the best strategy for the Red Sox is to wait. Remember, Kyle Lohse didn’t sign with the Brewers until the end of March. When the market dries up, teams will be less hesitant to give up a draft pick or more extreme contract demands. If Drew doesn’t return to Boston, they still have a young, high-upside infield with Bogaerts and Middlebrooks, and can find a veteran utility player to back them up (or stick with Brock Holt).

My guess? Some team other than Boston will take Stephen Drew. Shortstop is one of the shallowest positions in the major leagues in terms of talent, and a shortstop just entering his 30s with a plus-glove and some power is a rarity. But it may not be for a while. Let the waiting game begin.

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