The Problem With Stephen Drew’s Market

If Stephen Drew were a better player, he’d be in greater demand. I guess you could say that’s the main problem with the free agent’s current market. The better a player is, the more that player is wanted, and I can’t believe this is a sentence I’m writing on FanGraphs. It’s the same with literally everyone. If any given player were better, he’d be in more demand and/or he’d be guaranteed more money. Remember, every player has room for improvement, and baseball is such an easy game! There’s no excuse for not being perfect, really.

Drew’s good, though. Good enough to be wanted by someone. He’s in his 30s, but he’s not old, and he’s a proven, everyday shortstop. He seems to be over his grisly ankle injury, and he was worth 3.4 wins for a World Series champion during a season in which he missed a few weeks. He can hit a little, he can field,and he plays up the middle. Given no other information, you’d figure that sort of player would be pretty appealing. Yet what we observe is that Drew’s market hardly exists. We can never be sure of the inside reality — and we don’t know how this is going to turn out — but for now, it looks more like Drew’s in pursuit of a team, rather than a team is in pursuit of Drew.

It matters, of course, that Drew doesn’t project to be what he just was, in large part because his 2012 can’t be forgotten and his 2012 was lousy. For his career, he’s been a slightly below-average hitter. And while he’s solid in the field, he isn’t outstanding. Drew should be a fine shortstop for 2014. A guy who doesn’t hurt a team. That should get some real attention.

But there’s also the reality of what teams already have in place. I don’t know if this is a golden age of shortstops or something, but there aren’t many teams for which Drew would represent a meaningful improvement. There are a lot of good shortstops out there, there are a lot of young shortstops out there and teams are increasingly appreciating the values of youth and cost control. Even given a talent gap, a team would be reluctant to replace a young shortstop with an older free agent. That team would probably have to be in a certain situation.

The teams most connected to Drew right now are the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets. They’re also kind of the only teams connected to Drew at the moment. The Red Sox already had him once, and they’ve already got Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks lined up to occupy the infield’s left side. The Mets, meanwhile, say they’d be content to enter the season starting Ruben Tejada, despite his most recent down season. Tejada just turned 24 in October. But it isn’t just about the players they already have.

Right now, we have the Red Sox projected for baseball’s highest WAR total. They’re projected to win the AL East by a handful of games over a team thinking about trading David Price. The Mets are projected for a higher WAR than the Brewers but a lower WAR than the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres. They’re projected for the National League’s 11th-best record — or fifth-worst record — and though it wouldn’t be like that with Matt Harvey, they don’t get Matt Harvey. Not next year. For the Red Sox, Drew wouldn’t increase their playoff chances very much. For the Mets, Drew wouldn’t increase their playoff chances very much, either. He’d presumably be an improvement on both rosters, but what’s important is the significance.

We’ve written about the win curve, and about how extra wins are worth the most to teams on the playoff bubble. Those are the teams for which short-term overpayments are justifiable, because a win isn’t worth the same money to everyone across the board. If we have an overall average, and an area where we expect overpayments, then there must be corresponding areas where we look for underpayments. If money and demand follow need, then Drew’s in a little trouble.

Because right now a claim can’t be made that a team needs Stephen Drew. He’d help the Red Sox a little, but he’d make a very small impact on their overall chances, so there’s no need to pay much for his services. Drew would help the Mets by maybe a win or two, but that might just help them lock up third place in the NL East, trailing the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves in some order. That improvement isn’t valueless, but the Mets needn’t pay market price, since this isn’t supposed to be a championship season. And the difference between Drew and Tejada would presumably be smaller in 2015, when Harvey is expected to return.

What Drew’s market needs, for Drew, is an interested team on the bubble. The New York Yankees have already said no. The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have the money, so they’ll run with Jordy Mercer. They also wouldn’t want to give up the draft pick. The Kansas City Royals don’t have the money, so they’ll run with Alcides Escobar. They also wouldn’t want to give up the draft pick. The Detroit Tigers appear committed to Jose Iglesias, after waving goodbye to Jhonny Peralta. And the Tigers aren’t really on the bubble anyway. Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz have tiny markets, but at least, for their sakes, they’ve been linked to the Baltimore Orioles and the Seattle Mariners, which are currently in sensitive places. Drew’s market so far seems to be a really good team and a really mediocre team, and both teams could live without him. In theory, neither team would see the sense in getting into a bidding war.

Which means the money probably won’t be there, in a huge sum. It’s not even really because of the draft-pick compensation attached, although that doesn’t help. The Mets would lose just the 82nd pick, and the Red Sox would lose what would be a compensation sandwich pick were Drew to go somewhere else. It’s a small market because Drew isn’t needed by any team with real money to spend.

My preferred wild card would be that Scott Boras contact the Toronto Blue Jays and sell Drew as a second baseman. Drew’s never played second base before, at least a professional, but he has done well at a more difficult and similar position. In theory, it wouldn’t take a lot for him to move to the other side of the bag. The Jays have nothing but Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis at second base right now, and they’re on the playoff bubble, and they’ve got a pair of protected first-round draft picks. At this point, it’s a hypothetical, and it would require that Drew be open-minded. Still, there might be an opportunity to secure a bigger deal, especially if Toronto ends up frustrated by the starting-pitcher market. Drew could make the Blue Jays better by a few games and vault them into wild-card position.

Failing that, in time, Stephen Drew is going to be guaranteed some millions of dollars to work. There are worse realities on the planet, but Drew’s likely to come up short of his hopes. To some extent, a market can be manipulated, but one can’t really be created.

We hoped you liked reading The Problem With Stephen Drew’s Market by Jeff Sullivan!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

newest oldest most voted
Dana
Guest
Dana

Wouldn’t the Red Sox be a team on the playoff cusp? I would imagine any team with real potential, with today’s parity, would be on the playoff cusp. I could easily see 2 wins being the difference between the Red Sox making or not making the playoffs, even with the Yankees issues. I wouldn’t necessarily want him taking at bats away from Boegarts, but with the Sox starting to wild cards on the left side of the infield, and Boegarts versatility, I would think Drew as depth could have alot of value.

psualum
Guest
psualum

He just said the Red Sox are projected to have the highest WAR in the American League, and the second place team in the AL East is trying to trade its ace pitcher. They aren’t really on the cusp, they look solid (nothing is definite obviously). Also, its tough to clarify what kind of improvement you get from playing Drew at SS over Boegarts, if Xander is ready to breakout it might be a downgrade and Drew could find himself riding the pine come August.

The Stranger
Member

I’m not convinced that Middlebrooks is any good, even top prospects like Boegarts miss more often than we’d like (or just take an extra year or two to break out), and depth is usually good in any case. And the error bars on these projections are big enough that nobody should be confident that they don’t need a couple extra wins. The Red Sox were supposed to be kind of lousy last year, as I recall – any team in the AL East could put together a similar season and challenge the Red Sox.

Which isn’t to say that the Red Sox should give Drew the deal he wants, but they’re a better team with him, at least in 2014, and being better always has value to a competitive team.

paskins11
Member
paskins11

Will Middlebrooks first 169 games in majors: 32 HR, 103 RBI. That sort of power is pretty valuable these days.

LaLoosh
Guest

hmmm, projected wins are no g’tee of success. It does seem to me that the value of an extra win is a lot higher to the Sox than to the Mets bc they could easily find themselves in a heated race for the ALE. The issue almost has to be length of contract. I’d have to believe that the Sox would be happy to have Drew back on a 1 yr deal possibly even 2 but Drew/Boras almost certainly wants a 3 yr deal considering Drew is 31 now and his market prospects aren’t going to get better in the next couple of yrs.

As said by JS, the marginal win or two to the Mets doesn’t mean much for them to pay market rate so they’d prob be in on Drew should the price per yr come down. WIth little else in way of shortstops in the organization, seems to me that 3 yrs at 8M or even 9M per should be fine for the Mets, but I assume that it’s too early for Boras to drop the price that low yet so it’s a waiting game. Personally, I’m hoping the Mets trade for a young SS (Gregorius) who they’ll have under control longer instead.

RC
Guest
RC

The Red Sox have the highest projected WAR in the league. They’re just as likely to find themselves 10 games up as they are to find themselves in a heated race, which is why the wins aren’t as valuable as you think.

As to WMB and XB being wildcards.. they are. But Drew is a 30+ SS with a pretty consistent injury history the last couple years. The chance of Drew getting hurt/declining/etc isn’t insignificant. His brother went from a 4 WAR player to a -1 WAR in 200 PA player in 2 years, in his early 30s.

The Stranger
Member

Sure, but if they pay Drew and wind up 10 games up, they’re not going to complain about having him. If they have that kind of year, they’ll probably bring in some extra revenue to offset the higher payroll. They would have a better playoff roster too, which isn’t insignificant. Or if WMB and XB play well and they have a logjam on the left side of the infield, they can flip somebody at the trade deadline. Whereas if they underperform and miss the playoffs, they’ll lose revenue and open themselves up to a lot of second-guessing. I think the marginal value of a win is still there because the cost of having “too many” wins is much smaller than the cost of having too few.

Agreed that Drew isn’t exactly risk-free, but who is? Again, they probably shouldn’t give him what Boras wants, but they should be looking to sign him if the price drops and/or they can get him on a shorter contract. Which is apparently what they’re hoping to do.

LaLoosh
Guest

there’s that word “projected” again… as if the Red Sox may not even have to play the season bc they’re such a lock to run away with the ALE. Hysterical.

The Stranger
Member

Yeah, “projected” is a scary word. The Red Sox (like everybody else) are one bad outfield collision or Tommy John surgery away from needing all the wins they can get. To say nothing of the ordinary risk of general underperformance.

Even if wins are marginally less valuable for a team above the bubble than a team on the bubble, they’re still plenty valuable because they insure against some of those risks or give you more options at the trade deadline. Very different from a team like the Mets who aren’t competing regardless.

NS
Guest
NS

“hmmm, projected wins are no g’tee of success.”

Fascinating. Tell us more.

bob dole
Guest
bob dole

I agree that the fact the Red Sox are projected with the highest WAR doesn’t mean they would pass on Drew as an upgrade. The question is whether the money that would go to signing him is better spent on shoring up different spots on their roster.

The fact that they haven’t signed him yet also isn’t indicative of intent — waiting out the market is the right decision whether or not they’re interested in Drew.

LaLoosh
Guest

well, NS you’ve really added something to the conversation there, haven’t you….?

Herb
Guest
Herb

In theory, I’d agree that an incremental couple of wins are more valuable to the Red Sox as insurance. Even though they are projected as runaway winners in the ALE, you never know, and thos extra wins could be the ones that put them over the top.

In looking at how valuable Drew would be, we shouldn’t be looking at WAR. (wins above replacement player) Rather, we should be looking at WAM vs. WAT. (wins above Middlebrooks vs. wins above Tejada) In that measure, Drew would be more valuable to the Mets.

Regarding the Mets, their story is a bit different. Drew certainly mmight not giive the Mets the boost they would need to make the playoffs, although, as I said before, you never know. Wilder things than a team like the Mets becoming contenders have happened in past pennant races. The extra couple of games might just be a difference maker for the Mets too. But maybe more important to the Mets is credibility and fan enthusiasm. Signing another quality free agent would send another strong message to the fan base that the Mets are serious about not punting 2014 despite the loss of Harvey. That could translate into winning back many of the doubters and increasing attendance this year. It could set the stage for a turnaround in revenues and a return to profitability sooner rather than later.

As an aside, I too would love to see the Mets trade for a top notch young shortstop. We need to face the fact, however, that any young, relatively untested, player (spelled p-r-o-s-p-e-c-t) would be riskier than signing Drew. Nevertheless, I’d gladly go down that road, but Gregorius is not the guy I’d want by a long shot. He’s a good glove, light hitting shortstop, and the least desirable of the targets I’d be looking at. I would focus first on Seattle, and try for Brad Miller. If no, Nick Franklin would be an OK second choice. Rebuffed by Seattle, I’d then call on Arizona, but I’d be asking for Owings. If Gregorius was my fall back position, IO don’t think I’d want to give up much to get him.

B N
Guest
B N

While they could certainly try to find improvements, Drew would just be a cost-inefficient way to get them unless his price falls steeply. Drew might offer a 1 WAR improvement over Middlebrooks (who would be the likely odd-man out), optimistically, and cost well over $10m for his first year of a multi-year commitment. On the converse, Middlebrooks might bounce back this year and outperform Drew, who would probably be out of a full-time job in that case if Bogaerts is legit.

McCann was the only FA this year who would have been the obvious improvement. Even if he blocked some guys, the chances of those guys being half as good as McCann were low, and McCann did not sign for a bad price. Overall though, the free agent market hasn’t had a lot of great options for the Red Sox this year. It doesn’t make sense to sign a guy just to sign somebody. If they’re still looking to make a significant improvement, it probably makes more sense to call up the Marlins and see what it would take to replace that OF platoon with a guy named Stanton.

paskins11
Member
paskins11

So you don’t Ellsbury or Choo “would have been an obvious improvement” over Bradley Jr? Also, I have no idea why some people think LF is a weakness for the Sox, last year they had the 3rd best OPS in the majors.

pft
Guest
pft

A lot of things went right for the Red Sox. No significant injuries to position regulars, almost every player exceeding their projections, a BABIP that was the highest of any team since 1930, etc. Payroll flexibility thanks to the Dodgers that allowed them to acquire Peavy at the deadline after losing Buchholz (imagine if they could have done that in 2011), Koji standing by to take over for Hanrahan.

Zips actually has them losing about 15 WAR by my count due to downgrades and regression. Not sure how Fan Graphs is calculating the WAR, perhaps weighting 2013 more heavily than others.

TF
Guest
TF

Injuries affected Ross, Napoli, Pedroia, Drew, Middlebrooks, Ellsbury, and Victorino. Other than that, their position players were perfectly healthy.

Giraud
Guest
Giraud

You forgot Papi, Shanf, Iggy. Might as well include pitching with Buccholtz, Hanrahan, Bailey, Miller, Wilson. Not exactly 2011 or 2012, but healthy? OK, healthier.