One thing I used to admire about the New York Yankees during Joe Torre's run is that when one of their players consistently failed to perform, the Yanks removed him from the lineup. Granted, that was easier for the Yankees, who were often stacked with terrific players, but still, they tried to keep their best players on the field.
The Red Sox have improved in this area in the past 10 years or so; however, they've failed badly with some players, who they've allowed to keep their starting positions despite poor performance.
It certainly seems that right-fielder J.D. Drew has become one of those examples in 2011.
Drew, in the last year of a five-year, $70 million contract, has been performing poorly by anyone's standards during 2010 and the first three months of this year. So, while Red Sox observers have long debated whether Drew earned his inflated salary, any debate, at the moment, should be over.
Drew has become a liability. His hitting has been in decline since the end of 2009. Yes, he's been platooned when the team faces most left-handed pitchers and he's missed games due to injury, but his stats in 2011 are simply awful. As of June 24, Drew was batting .204 with runners in scoring position and .150 with two outs and men in scoring position.
Drew, in 184 at-bats, is batting .228 with 18 RBI and 4 HR. To get perspective on how poor his hitting is on a team with a high-powered offense, consider that weak-hitting, part-time catcher Jason Varitek, with 107 at-bats, is batting .234 with 15 RBI and 3 HR and part-time catcher Jarrod Saltalamachia (platooned with Varitek) with 152 at-bats and is hitting .250 with 20 RBI and 5 HR.
Varitek and Saltalamachia bat below Drew at the bottom of the lineup and expectations are low for their hitting—particularly Varitek, an aging veteran. Yet, these two are hitting better than Drew with fewer at-bats!
Drew remains a good outfielder. But his strange approach at the plate seems to have contributed to his decline. He's more picky than ever about balls and strikes even after his eccentric selectivity caused problems in 2010. How many times do we have to watch Drew take good pitches for called strikes at key moments in games? How many times do we have to watch him try to over-pull a ball, resulting in a dribbler to second base?
Given that Drew's performance and stats are beyond debate, given that he's said he may want to retire at the end of the 2011 season, given that he seems more detached than ever from his game and given that the Red Sox have options for replacing him, how can GM Theo Epstein and Manager Terry Francona NOT reduce Drew's playing time in the second half, or, if he keeps playing poorly, replace him altogether?
Well, let's face it: Theo has a real "blind spot" about Drew. Epstein has defended Drew even when Drew's performance has been subpar. At times, Theo has seemed so hung up on citing some stat of Drew's in certain situations that he can't admit what his eyes have seen.
Drew has often been maddening to watch because he's chosen to not swing the bat and try to knock in runs for his team and, instead, stood stubbornly with the bat on his shoulder as if his priority is to win a nit-picky argument with the umpire about how many inches by which a pitch missed the outside corner.
If Drew shocks us all with a great comeback, that would solve the problem. If he keeps playing poorly, however, it's time for Epstein to snap out of his denial and put a better hitter out in right field.
Theo: Have you noticed, by chance, that Josh Reddick, in only the past few games, has looked a hell of a lot better at the plate than Drew? Reddick, who has mashed some line drives, has already knocked in 7 RBI in only 22 at-bats.
I know he's a rookie, but, you know what? Reddick has paid enough dues now. He's learned how to hit better and be more selective. Sometimes, the Red Sox wait too long to bring up a minor-league player. Reddick sure as hell seems more likely to help the team than Drew.
I'm not even sure Reddick has to be the answer. Ryan Kalish, still recovering from an injury, is due to come up to majors at some point, plus, the Red Sox could consider making a deal at the trading deadline to get a better hitter in right field. Drew will have only a few months left on his contract.
Epstein and the Red Sox have certainly been willing to eat portions of other players' contracts, and Theo has made bold moves, like trading Nomar Garciaparra or getting Victor Martinez at the trading deadline or acquiring John Lackey. Yet he seems unwilling to do anything to question or alter the playing status of J.D. Drew.
He seems overly protective toward Drew and unwilling to admit, even partially, that Drew's performance has not always lived up to his $14 million annual salary. Epstein seems to have stubborn pride about Drew, who he reportedly was eyeing for years before the Red Sox got him.
By the time August rolls around, however, Epstein's pride should not be the issue. All that should matter is Drew's performance, and, if he still is hitting badly, he should be replaced so that the Red Sox have a better chance to compete in the playoffs. Right, Theo?