And the offseason of surprise moves keeps chugging along! He was arguably the least wanted by the fanbase of all the Yankee free agents when last season ended and the least likely to return when the Gregorius trade went down, but somehow we woke up this morning in a world where Stephen Drew will be a Yankee again in 2015. Actually it wasn't somehow, it was the team agreeing to a 1-year/$5 million deal with him last night, but you get the idea.
The response to this move from readers of this site and the Yankosphere in general seems to be mostly negative, and that's understandable considering how horrible Drew was after the Yankees traded for him last year. But when you really look at this signing from all angles and remember the roster landscape that Drew will be fitting into, this move may end up being the best one the Yankees made this offseason.
The biggest point of contention among folks who are against this deal is the apparent blocking of the kids at second base. EJ addressed this last night, but I'd like to discuss it in a little more detail here. Yes, the most obvious and at the moment most likely result of this signing is Drew sliding into the starting second base spot and Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela staying in Triple-A. But keep in mind that this was the original plan at second base before Martin Prado was traded. His presence was going to allow the Yanks to give Refsnyder more time in Triple-A to work on his game, something almost everybody agreed was in Refsnyder's best interests, and then transition to Refsnyder when Prado had to be moved elsewhere. Drew's similar defensively flexibility keeps that easy transition to Refsnyder at second in play if and when circumstances dictate the move. And if they don't, so be it. It's not the end of the world. On a 1-year deal, Drew is more of a bridge to Refsnyder taking over the position full-time than a blockade.
It is that defensive flexibility that's really the key to this deal. Whether Drew ends up being the starting second baseman on Opening Day or not, he now becomes the new backup to Didi Gregorius at shortstop. I say that knowing the Yankees could package Gregorius in a trade for a starter as some have suggested, but fully expecting them to hold onto him and give him the starting job. With Drew now backing Gregorius up at short, having experience at second, and having the ability to play third if needed, Brendan Ryan and his non-existent bat have become expendable on the bench. The Yankees can cut ties with him, eat the small amount of money they owe, and upgrade their bench options around the infield.
Who knows? Maybe that's the role Drew is destined for and the role the Yankees had in mind when they signed him. There's nothing that says he HAS to get the starting second base job over Refsnyder or Pirela. The Yankees can have those guys compete with Drew for the job in ST. Considering how bad he was at the plate in 2014, Drew could probably use a little competition to wake his bat up. If he does enough to win the job, great. If not, maybe he settles into a utility platoon role as the backup to Gregorius AND Refsnyder/Pirela at second and short. He could hit for Gregorius in tough lefty matchups and even spell Refsnyder every now and then against right-handers if he has a good history against them. Bottom line, Drew's glove work up the middle is comparable to Ryan's at this point and his bat projects to be better.
How much better remains to be seen. Drew's batting line last year was abysmal. There's no spinning that fact. Steamer is only projecting a .289 wOBA for him this season. There isn't much faith in Drew's ability to bounce back this season, and now that he's signed he's going to have to prove that last year's awfulness was the result of him missing so much early time and not the beginning of his end as a productive hitter. Question, what if he does? What if Drew comes in healthy and in shape, gets his regular spring routine in, and bounces back to the .250/.330/.430 hitter he was in 2013? What if he exceeds that? How big would that be for the Yankees? It's not like it's completely outside the realm of possibility. Drew is 2 months shy of his 32nd birthday, not exactly past his expiration date.
Taking a $5 million chance on that best case outcome is something the Yankees should be doing. It's a smart way to use their financial advantage and it could net them returns both on and off the field. Think about this scenario. It's late June/early July, Drew is healthy and hitting well, so is Didi, and Refsnyder is raking in Triple-A and getting positive scouting reports on his defensive improvements. Enough other injury and performance problems have the Yankees sitting 5-6 games out of the Wild Card again. What's to stop them from shopping Drew and trying to trade him to a team that needs infield help? That would open up the second base job for Refsnyder and it would net the Yankees another young player or 2 in return to help feed their rebuild. It would be the ultimate win-win-win for the Yankees.
Even if that admittedly unlikely scenario doesn't play out, it's hard to find any in which the Yankees don't come out of this deal winners. The only one that comes to mind is one in which all 3 of Drew, Refnsyder, and Pirela are not hitting, but that's something that won't sneak up on the Yankees. They'll have time to address it if it happens. In the immediate, they've upgraded their depth all around the infield, given themselves insurance policies for their young middle infielders and any potential injuries, further increased their roster flexibility, created the opportunity to rid themselves of their weakest projected bench player, taken a low-risk chance on a bounce back candidate who could turn into a useful trade chip, and done all of that without making any kind of major monetary or contract length commitment.
All of those are good things and I think there'd be more people singing the praises of those good things and the signing if the name attached to it wasn't Stephen Drew. I understand the negative feelings associated with that name because of last season, but that's something people need to look past and get over. There's a lot to like about this signing, much more than there is to dislike. It fits perfectly with the plan the team has been executing this offseason and should be seen as another sign that the Yankees are smartening up when it comes to building a roster.