Nothing has gone according to plan for the Boston Red Sox in 2012 while everything that could possibly help the Baltimore Orioles has gone so perfectly it’s hard to believe. That’s baseball. For a team like the Pirates, despair can run rampant. For the Washington Nationals (and the Rays before them) good drafts built the rotation, providing the pitchers – Zimmermann and Strasberg – and the prospects to acquire Gio Gonzalez. But that wasn’t all: the Nationals had to buy some if their respectability by signing Jayson Werth to a seven-year $126-million dollar deal.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “the Red Sox just got out of two contracts like that” and I agree. The freedom from the Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford signings should not be given up quickly, even for a team with enough money to afford “mistakes.” Rather, think back to the 2010 season and Adrian Beltre.
What’s the History?
For better or worse, Adrian Beltre will always be remembered for his amazing 2004 season: .334/.388/.629 with 48 home runs is pretty hard to forget. However, Beltre, doing what any smart player who has a career year right before hitting free agency will do, parlayed his success into five years and $64 million dollars with the Seattle Mariners. (At the time, that was a lot of money. Trust me.)
Of course, Seattle would turn out not to be a good fit for Beltre and a series of down-years and injuries left him licking his wounds by the time his contract expired. The slick-fielding third baseman hit a combined .266/.317/.436 with a total of 103 home runs, never hitting more than 26 in a season. By contrast, in parts of seven seasons with the Dodgers, including his amazing 2004, Beltre hit a more respectable, but not superstar, .274/.332/.463 with 147 home runs. Essentially, without that magical 2004, Beltre wouldn’t have been a disappointment. At the time though, Beltre was coming off his age 25 season, and players that age can take big steps forward.
Beltre would turn 31 in April of 2010 after signing a one-year deal with the Red Sox that would pay him $9 million dollars that January. Against all (or most) odds, Beltre thrived. He lead the league with 49 doubles, boosted his slash line to .321/.365/.553 (all career highs outside of 2004) and launched 28 home runs, the most he hit since leaving Los Angeles.
Shortstop has been a revolving door during the John Henry era. Whether trades, fill-ins, free agents, or prospects – no one has managed to hold and keep the job. This may not be a problem. Some positions, like second base with Dustin Pedroia, have been filled from the farm. Cody Ross, who may be extended, was signed as a free agent to take a share of the outfield corners.
With the Dodgers taking over a quarter billion dollars in future financial obligations off the Red Sox hands, Boston has money to spend – especially on short-term contracts, the kind Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington are famous for. The next one-year deal should be given to Stephen Drew, formerly of the Arizona Diamondbacks and now on the Oakland A’s.
Stephen is the younger brother of former Red Sox right-fielder J.D. Drew and plays shortstop. Like his brother, Drew came up through the minors with potential for both power and speed. And sure enough, Drew showed he was capable of putting up double digits in steal and home runs, while chipping in quite well with doubles power too.
But, like his brother, only to a greater extreme, Drew’s career was derailed by injuries. After his banner 2010 season, Drew the Younger has battled one injury after the next. On July 20th, 2011, Drew broke his ankle while sliding into home plate. His season, not off to a great start, was over. Drew then had offseason surgery for a sports hernia. This brought about additional delays in his rehab and recovery. When Drew finally returned to the Diamondbacks on June 27th of this season, things didn’t go well.
Drew hit just .193/.290./311 in 40 games for Arizona. It seemed like things couldn’t go much worse for the shortstop. With a $10 million dollar mutual option for 2013 and a buyout of $1.35 million, the D-backs were faced with a conundrum: their former up-and-comer or remain on the hook for at least the buyout. The surprising Oakland A’s took them up on it and acquired the potential upgrade over Cliff Pennington from the Diamondbacks in August.
Since his Oakland A’s debut on August 21, Drew has hit .271/.340/.421 with 5 home runs and the A’s have almost secured a playoff spot.
Where the Sox Come In
The Red Sox are rebuilding. They’ve missed the playoffs three straight years. Jose Iglesias has yet to step up and claim the shortstop position. Why not take a shot on Drew? The Oakland A’s are not known for high-priced players and Drew’s $10 million, along with $8.5 for Yoenis Cespedes and $7 million for Coco Crisp, could be more than the team is willing to spend.
Mike Aviles has hit just .251/.283/.383 this season. While the Red Sox should have a strong offense again next season once Will Middlebrooks and David Ortiz are back in the fold, there is no reason not to look at upgrading. When you consider the amount of payroll flexibility the Sox have these days, snagging Drew on a bounce-back deal could be Beltre 2.0. The risk, of course, is that Drew’s bounceback has shown enough to warrant a long-term deal, which even three years may be too much of a risk, given his performance and injury history.
Cross-posted at Sports of Boston