Contract offers for Drews can never just go unnoticed.
On Monday, the Red Sox extended three qualifying offers to their free agents, offering one-year, $14.1 million deals to Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew. Those offers are made in no small part to ensure that the teams that make them are not left empty-handed should their players leave via free agency. Instead, those 13 players across baseball who received qualifying offers on Monday will require the teams that sign them (if they change organizations) to part with a draft pick, while entitling the teams that offered them to receive a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds of next year's draft.
That Ellsbury -- in line for a deal for many years to come at a salary that may push $20 million a year -- received an offer represented no real surprise, just as there is a virtual certainty that he will not accept the qualifying offer.
That Napoli received the offer wasn't much of a surprise. He made $13 million in 2013; he performed to and, based on his defense, perhaps beyond the standard that convinced the Sox to reach agreement with him on a three-year, $39 million deal before the discovery of a degenerative hip condition forced the sides to renegotiate down to a one-year deal. The 32-year-old's hips remained healthy in 2013, and so he could well be in line for $14 million or more for multiple seasons.
And then there was Drew. The Red Sox signed the shortstop to a one-year, $9.5 million deal last offseason at a time when the 30-year-old was looking to reestablish his market value while returning to complete health following a horrific ankle fracture in 2011. He performed roughly to his career standards in 2013, hitting .253 with a .333 OBP and .443 slugging mark while playing excellent defense.
"That's a top-10 shortstop," one talent evaluator noted of Drew's performance in 2013.
Yet even in this past season, there were elements that pointed to an even more impressive performance. Drew started slowly after a concussion in spring training largely wiped out his preseason. Starting in late April through the end of the year, however, he hit .268/.344/.470 with all 13 of his homers coming in his last 111 games. And against right-handed pitchers, he hit .284 with a .377 OBP and .498 slugging mark.
Of course, he endured a woeful postseason of epic proportions as a hitter. Still, the Sox' view of his offensive abilities remained relatively unchanged by his October performance to the point where he remained the starting shortstop for all 16 games in the playoffs.
So how did all of that translate to a one-year, $14.1 million offer?
THE RED SOX REALLY LIKE DREW -- AND SO, IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, DOES THE MARKET
A year ago, Drew represented an uncertainty, an upside gamble by the Red Sox after he was coming off of an injury that resulted in the worst year of his career (a .223/.309/.348 line). He's re-established his performance baseline in a fashion that means that his market value, too, has gone up. The AL average shortstop hit .256 with a .309 OBP and .373 slugging mark -- numbers that Drew cleared comfortably.
On the open market, will he find a $14.1 million a year offer? Probably not. But given the scarcity of quality options at shortstop, and the fact that teams like the Cardinals and Yankees may be in the market at that position, he'll probably see multi-year offers that aren't too far off from that. That being the case, the Sox could have a position of some comfort in making the qualifying offer, with the notion that if he accepts it, he'd represent perhaps a slight overpay for a short-term deal.
One Red Sox official recently compared Drew's skill set favorably to that of his older brother, J.D. Regardless of what others thought of the contract, the Sox rarely harbored regrets about a five-year, $70 million deal that paid the right fielder $14 million a year.
THE RED SOX REALLY LIKE DRAFT PICKS
Given Drew's northward drift of his market value, the Sox feel that there's a reasonable likelihood that the shortstop turns down the qualifying offer in order to pursue a multi-year deal. One official of another AL team on Monday suggested that there was virtually no chance that Drew accepts the qualifying offer, given his anticipated earning power and the desire to avoid a second straight one-year deal that would, in turn, guarantee a third trip to free agency in as many winters after the 2014 season.
And if Drew signs elsewhere, then because the Sox made the qualifying offer they would be entitled to a compensation pick -- and, perhaps more importantly, the money to sign picks -- between the first and second rounds.
So: The Sox are comfortable with the possibility that either Drew accepts the offer, thus returning and offering another year of strong two-way play, or with the possibility that he rejects the deal and signs elsewhere, in which case they would have one of the top 50 picks in next year's draft.
THE RED SOX REALLY LIKE DEPTH
The signing of Drew last offseason was an oft-overlooked game-changer for the Sox. The team's only options on the left side of the infield at the time (given that Xander Bogaerts had spent all of one month in Double-A as a shortstop) were third baseman Will Middlebrooks, shortstop Jose Iglesias and utility man Pedro Ciriaco. The team could have gone with an Iglesias-Middlebrooks combination, but it would have been exposed if either player endured a slump or injury.
Because the team added Drew, it had Iglesias available as a fill-in at third base when Middlebrooks was injured and then slumped. That proved a transformative aspect of the Sox, not only because Iglesias offered a significant offensive spark in May and June but also because he increased his trade value to the point where he (and a couple of lower-level minor league prospects) could net Jake Peavy in a trade.
As of now, if Drew were to leave, the Sox' only big league options on the left side of the infield would be Bogaerts, Middlebrooks and Brock Holt. Holt showed some value as a fill-in, but the Sox still felt compelled to trade for John McDonald (a veteran who is an excellent defender) in August. In other words, if Drew leaves, the Sox will be in a position where they likely are in the market for a depth option on the left side of the infield.
"We want to maintain that depth, that strength throughout the roster as best we can," said Sox GM Ben Cherington. "We have some younger players in the organization, obviously, a couple of them on the left side of the infield in Middlebrooks and Bogaerts who we have very high hopes and expectations for. We're just looking to be as strong as possible throughout the roster. Just because we have a young player who we really believe in doesn't mean that we wouldn't be interested in adding to a particular area.
"Again, one of the hallmarks of this team in 2013 was that we had a deep roster," Cherington added. "It helped us get through certain parts of the season. And so we want to do whatever we can to continue that into next season."
IT'S NOT A GIVEN THAT XANDER BOGAERTS OPENS THE YEAR AT SHORTSTOP
The Sox believe that Bogaerts can play shortstop. His defensive strides have been both steady and considerable.
But that doesn't necessarily mean he can play it at the same level as Drew, at least not right now. Clearly, in the playoffs, the team felt strongly that its best team featured Drew -- even at a time when he wasn't hitting at all -- at shortstop and Bogaerts at third base. That was a reflection not just of Drew's defensive abilities but also Bogaerts' aptitude at a new position.
"The one thing he learned on the fly was third base. As we got deeper into the postseason, I felt like he got himself in better position on certain angles to ground balls, and that’s a credit to [infield and third base coach] Brian Butterfield with the assistance of [teammate] John McDonald with the work they were putting in each day early," said Sox manager John Farrell. "Before coming here, I think he had about a half-dozen games at third base. To ask him to continue to learn it and perform at the most critical time of year, he handled it great. It just opens up more flexibility for us as we build the team for next year."
Conceivably, if Drew returned, it would open the door for the Sox to consider having Drew and Bogaerts split time at short (with Bogaerts getting starts at that position against lefties and becoming the primary third baseman against righties) and having Middlebrooks play both third and, should Napoli depart as a free agent, some first base. Or, the team could have Bogaerts or Middlebrooks open the year in the minors, more or less replicating the dynamic that existed both in 2013 with Drew, Middlebrooks and Iglesias and in 2005, when the team had a major league-ready Kevin Youkilis stashed in Triple-A.
(Worthwhile caveat on Bogaerts: He performed as the Sox' second-best hitter for considerable stretches of the postseason. But Cherington's response to the matter of whether Bogaerts would open 2014 in the big leagues or minors stopped short of a guarantee.
"He certainly looks like he's ready to play in the big leagues," said Cherington. "We've obviously thought very highly of him for a long time. You don’t know exactly when the stage is going to arrive, but he looked very comfortable on it when he got on it. We'll see. Very early in the offseason, and there's plenty of time this offseason and in spring training to figure it all out. We're glad he's on our side.")
THE SOX WANT TO GO YOUNG ... BUT NOT TOO YOUNG
With free agency creating uncertainty at four positions -- catcher, shortstop, center field, first base -- the Sox are likely to commit greater responsibility to some of their homegrown players. Yet the team is hesitant about committing too much responsibility to young players who lack proven track records. So, for instance, there would be some hesitancy on the part of the organization to commit to Bogaerts at short and Jackie Bradley Jr. in center. That doesn't mean that the team wouldn't consider doing so, but it's worth noting that there would be at least some hesitancy.
"Obviously the four position players free agents we mentioned played key roles, we're going to continue to talk to, and all four of those spots have to be determined in some way," said Cherington. "In a lot of those spots, we have, we think, very strong, viable alternatives in the organization, younger players. I think there will be -- there's probably a preference on our part not to commit to being young at all four of those spots. Maybe there's a combination somewhere in there. We'll just have to see."
That doesn't mean the Red Sox wouldn't feature both Bogaerts (who plays with the poise of a veteran) and Bradley at the same time, but by default, the team likely would feature a talented veteran at one of the positions.
Drew fit the Red Sox' depth model in 2013, and the qualifying offer for him fits what the Red Sox are trying to accomplish in 2014 as well. If he takes the one-year offer, then the Sox have a stronger roster for next year. If he declines, then the team gets a draft pick that should, in theory, improve its future outlook -- and, potentially, help offset any prospects who might be sacrificed this offseason in a trade.