Why Stephen Drew Could Be Headed for Long Wait for Free-Agent Contract

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Why Stephen Drew Could Be Headed for Long Wait for Free-Agent Contract
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After two weeks of banter, rumors and potential offseason landing spots opening up, the Hot Stove has finally started to burn.

Over the last few days, a blockbuster between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers,  an under-the-radar signing by the New York Mets, an intriguing swap between the Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals and delusional approach by the Philadelphia Phillies front office have combined to own the news cycle.

Thus far, the destination of free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew has not been at the forefront of baseball's rumor mill. If his agent, Scott Boras, follows a recent script of good, not great, free-agent profiles, Drew could be waiting for months to sign his next lucrative contract.

When the Boston Red Sox placed the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer on Drew, his market was severely altered. Now, any team that signs Drew must forfeit a top draft pick. If the team owns one of the 10 worst records in baseball, the pick will be outside the first round. However, if it's a contending team, or even a losing team outside of the bottom 10 records from 2013, the pick will come from the first round of the 2014 draft.

Needless to say, Drew is going to find a home, regardless of the compensation that will come with his next contract. Yet, it could take a while for his market to come down and interested teams to justify millions spent and a draft pick surrendered. 

If the process is anything like Michael Bourn or Kyle Lohse's free agency from last winter, Drew could be without a permanent home until February. 

Last winter, both Bourn and Lohse were quality free agents, but neither looked to be a franchise-changing player. As a speedy outfielder, Bourn was looking to be paid based on his defense, speed and ability to hit at the top of the order. Lohse, a durable, 200-inning arm, was looking to cash in on his ability to stabilize any rotation in baseball.

Eventually, both did garner solid deals. Bourn, after nearly landing with the New York Mets, found a home in Cleveland on a four-year, $48 million deal. Meanwhile, Lohse landed in Milwaukee on a three-year, $33 million pact. Based on their track records of success prior to free agency, it's likely that both would have landed even bigger deals had draft pick compensation not been attached.

At first, it was clear that some suitors passed on both due to the draft pick issue. As the offseason progressed, teams filled needs and zapped up their budgets to the point where neither player, even if there was mutual interest, became a natural fit any longer.

Stephen Drew, although not a perfect parallel to the patient free-agent stars of last winter, is on a similar tier of talent. It's easy to dismiss the merits of Drew's value, especially after a dismal offensive postseason for the World Series champions, but, much like Lohse and Bourn, his contributions are clear to those immersed in the game.  

Best WAR Among SS (2008-2013)
Player OPS+ WAR
Troy Tulowitzki 126 25.9
Hanley Ramirez 132 23.7
Marco Scutaro 101 19.6
Asdrubal Cabrera 107 18.0
Jose Reyes 116 18.0
Jhonny Peralta 102 15.5
Stephen Drew 102 14.4
Derek Jeter 105 13.8
Rafael Furcal 100 11.3
Ian Desmond 103 9.8

Baseball-Reference

Since 2008, Drew is one of only nine shortstops to post at least an OPS+ of 100 and contribute a 9.0 or higher WAR to his clubs. As offense fades away and the game becomes geared to young power-pitching, shortstops that can provide league average offense and decent total value are very, very valuable. 

Eventually, there will be suitors for Drew, but the draft pick compensation will scare enough suitors off to make his plight more interesting than it would have been without the conundrum. 

Furthermore, one of the teams in the Stephen Drew sweepstakes, the New York Yankees, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, may have to wait months in order to fill out their roster and set their final winter budget. 

Due to the Alex Rodriguez circus, the Yankees are handcuffed, possibly until sometime in late December or early January. According to Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York, that's when arbitrator Fredric Horowitz is expected to finally rule on A-Rod's 211-game suspension. If it goes into effect immediately, the Yankees could have $33.1 million extra to work with in 2014. 

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They would also have a major hole on the left side of the infield. Not only would Rodriguez have to be replaced for a full season, but Derek Jeter is nearing his 40th birthday and fresh off an ankle injury that cost him most of the 2013 season. The fact that Stephen Drew can play shortstop or third base makes him, along with fellow free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta, a no-brainer for the Yankees.

If circumstances were different around the Red Sox qualifying offer or the state of New York's budget, Drew's free agency could have been quick, perhaps over by the end of the Winter Meetings in December. 

Now, don't be surprised if his name is used in conjunction with Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. It doesn't mean he won't be rewarded for a stellar 2013 season, it just might take time.

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