If the New York Yankees want to cap their offseason pursuit of the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, signing their former shortstop to fill major holes in 2014 and beyond could be a season-changing transaction.
Stephen Drew, after helping Boston ascend to AL East supremacy and a World Series run in 2013, is still on the open market, available to the highest bidder. While hardly surprising, Drew's availability becomes more intriguing by the day for a Yankees team that has already spent over $500 million to procure talent for next season.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Yankees are taking a look at the possibility of making an offer to Drew.
Despite the arrivals of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees need help in the bullpen and throughout the infield. Brian Cashman, the architect of the offseason, acknowledged the question marks, via Anthony Rieber of Newsday.
If you believe first baseman Mark Teixeira can return to full strength after a season-ending wrist injury ruined his 2013 campaign, that leaves three question marks across the infield: second base, third base, and, yes, shortstop.
As of this moment, Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson are slated to be everyday players for the 2014 Yankees, per MLB Depth Charts. At shortstop, Derek Jeter heads into his 40-year-old season, under the cloud of a lost 2013 and multiple ankle injuries. Predicting full seasons out of Roberts and Jeter is foolish, and asking Kelly Johnson to be more than an average player is nonsensical.
Luckily for the Yankees, Drew, willing and able to play all three of New York's questionable positions, is ripe for the taking in free agency. According to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, Drew's agent, Scott Boras, has fielded calls from teams interested in converting the 30-year-old shortstop into a second baseman or third baseman.
If one of those calls wasn't from the Yankees, they aren't seeing the opportunity in front of them.
Over the last six years, Stephen Drew has been worth 14.5 bWAR (Baseball-Reference WAR) during his stops in Arizona, Oakland and Boston. Last year, he contributed 3.1 WAR to the cause in a Red Sox uniform. While that level of production makes Drew a very viable starter in the majors, the impact he can have as a healthy player is even greater.
Since 2008, Drew has played in less than 100 games twice (2011, 2012) and hasn't topped 150 games in a season since 2010. After playing 124 last year, plus a full run of 16 postseason games in October, the 30-year-old is healthy and poised to enter spring ready for a full season.
If Drew's next team can keep him upright for 650 plate appearances, he could be the difference between a postseason berth and watching October from home, especially in New York.
While Drew's 14.5 bWAR places him 31st among all second baseman, third baseman and shortstops since 2008, his WAR per 650 plate appearances stands out. With a 3.6 WAR for each "full" season of plate appearances, the free-agent infielder prorates as one of the most valuable infielders in the sport over the last six years.
|Highest WAR from 2B, 3B and SS (2008-2013)|
|Player||Total WAR||Avg. Season WAR|
Ironically, if Drew signs with the Yankees and stays healthy in 2014, it's the equivalent of an average Alex Rodriguez season of value since the 2008 season began.
Without Drew, the 2014 Yankees can be good, but likely will enter the season projected around the 87-win mark and behind both Boston and Tampa Bay in the AL East pecking order. However, with Drew's health, versatility, defense and value, the team can easily project to win 90-plus games and enter September with a real chance at the postseason.
Last winter, Grantland's Jonah Keri did a fantastic job detailing the win-curve for contending teams. For the current edition of the Yankees, especially with the notion of staying under the $189 million luxury tax being out the window, every win is now magnified.
For a team like Philadelphia, the difference between 73 and 77 wins is irrelevant. For the Yankees, four wins could be the difference from missing out on the second wild-card berth or making a run through October.
As noted, Drew's potential inclusion on the 2014 Yankees serves multiple purposes, fills various needs and potentially gives closure to an eventful, productive offseason. Assuming the 30-year-old receives more than a one-year contract, it can also bridge the gap to the eventual end of Derek Jeter's career.
New York's captain hasn't talked about his eventual retirement, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't. At the age of 39, months removed from a September shutdown and without a contract past 2014, it would not be surprising to see Jeter retire next winter. If he rebounds to post a solid season, that notion might dissipate.
Until then, the Yankees should consider contingency plans at shortstop for both the present and future.
In 2014, Drew can spell Jeter at short, shuffle between second and third, and give manager Joe Girardi the ability to use a prime-age player in multiple positions. In 2015, Drew could be the heir apparent to Jeter at shortstop, but already eased into the spotlight and role by his inclusion on the team in Jeter's final season.
Stephen Drew isn't a franchise savior. If he was, his name would have already been inked to a contract in excess of $100 million.
While not a savior, Drew can be the answer to many of the concerns around New York's expensive, yet confounding roster. If the Yankees peruse the former Red Sox shortstop, they'll find a perfect fit for the present, and a legitimate, professional option for life after Derek Jeter.