Stephen Drew is the least exciting free agent on the market.
Stephen Drew is one of the only free agents that actually makes sense for a cheap team with one more year of contention left before the dark times begin.
I know. This isn’t going to be fun, in the way fantasizing about a Hanley Ramirez or a Victor Martinez signing is. He’s not going to be a team-changer, he won’t be dominant, he won’t get any MVP votes. That’s fine. He’s a spare part that would be perfect for a team that’s maybe a spare part away from being dominant again.
It’s easy to forget just how good his 2013 was, with the terrifying mess that was 2014. His .253/.333/.443 line was really, really good from the shortstop position. He added a 5.3 UZR rating, which is fantastic — better than anything the A’s have gotten at the position in the past 10 years, aside from Cliff Pennington. But more than that, he was a consistent source of offense at position that’s often viewed as defense first. 13 homers over 124 games is a better pace than Jed Lowrie managed, and he was our #3 hitter for most of the season.
He won a World Series (okay, he lost his job to Xander Bogaerts mid-playoffs, but to be fair, Xander Boegarts is really good), and then his offseason of terrible decisions started. Stephen Drew received a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, and he screwed himself by not taking it. He was caught in limbo where he was a fine player who no one wanted to sign because of the draft pick penalty. Dude tried to gamble on a long term contract instead of taking the $14 million on the table, and lost, hard. The only choice he really had after he declined the QO was to sit out the season, and that was the root of his problems. He had no spring training, no offseason routine, none of the regular stuff players do in winter. I assume he spent the first few months of the summer in his underwear watching daytime TV.
Here’s the elephant in the room, the reason why so many of you are going to disagree with this reunion: he was awful in 2014. To the tune of .162/.237/.299, just outrageously bad. There was just nothing positive to pull out from his 2014 — I’d dig deeper into his sabermetrics to find a positive, but one just doesn’t exist. Everything he did well in the past — power, plate discipline, everything — was just not there. He was great on the defensive end, but that’s a skill that usually doesn’t slump.
You could point to his batting average on balls in play — .194 is historically low, and will rebound to somewhere around .270, at least. But it’s not like that was entirely bad luck: he posted a career low in line drives. He had a career high in K%, and a career low in BB%. He looked like an entirely different hitter, and a pretty crappy one at that. It was a lost season in every sense of the word. And that makes him perfect for the A’s.
Listen: the A’s are built on buy-low weirdoes, guys with defects that made them cheap and available. The heart and soul of the team, Josh Donaldson, was 27 year old AAA filler two years ago. While the A’s have recently shown they have the money and the willingness to potentially sign big name players, they still don’t have the financial flexibility to eat a huge contract if things go poorly. The middle infield free-agency market is thin and full of players with flashing neon warning signs. The trade market is expensive in terms of prospects that don’t exist.
Stephen Drew ain’t fun, but he’s cheap. He’s so cheap. With the ridiculous awfulness of 2014, he might be had for a 1 year/ $6 million contract, maybe with a team option. And he’s got upside: he’s been at least a 3 WAR player two out of the last five years. At the very least, he’ll give you a decent middle-infield option on a team that has exactly none of those right now. If he’s bad, who cares, he’s gone next year. If he’s good, you just hit on the biggest bargain of free agency.
The Steamer projection system projects a .220/.295/.360. I’d take the over on that, since Steamer is an unfeeling robot that doesn’t understand why his timing was so off last year.
Stephen Drew isn’t fun. He isn’t an MVP candidate. But maybe, just maybe, he’s what the team needs to buy.