Monday, February 2, 2015

Yankees hope for “baseball card stats” from Stephen Drew

When the New York Yankees offseason began there were murmurs that the second base job could be handed to one of the club’s promising prospects. Instead, the Yanks elected to bring Stephen Drew into the fold, and the choice is not an overwhelming favorite of the fanbase.

Rewind to the offseason following the Boston Red Sox winning the 2013 World Series and Drew looked like a decent choice for a team looking for a slick fielding shortstop that could handle the stick. The problem was he had a qualifying offer attached to his name and, well, Drew was not thought of as someone worthy of losing a draft pick.

He reportedly received some offers, but none of which made his agent Scott Boras jump, and they decided to hold out. Drew missed the entirety of spring training, eventually signing with the Red Sox in May. For as good as Drew was at the plate in 2013, he was twice as miserable there in 2014.

Drew slashed .253/.333/.443 with a 109 wRC+ in 2013, but fell off the map with a .162/.237/.299 line in 300 plate appearances, good for a 44 wRC+ last season. Missing spring training came back to haunt him, and he never seemed to be given a straight chance with the Red Sox or the Yankees as he struggled and the season wore on to try and work out of it.

Once the Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius to take over shortstop following Derek Jeter’s retirement, not much thought was give to Drew as a Yankee. That was especially true once the Yankees publicly began to talk of a second base battle between Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder.

Apparently those talks started to soften and Drew became an option on a short-term, low-cost deal (one-year, $5 million) which the club felt was good enough not to pass up. It works for Drew in that he can try to re-establish his value, and it works for the Yankees because they can cut bait with him if he resembles the player who floundered in 2014.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman recently spoke to the New York Daily News about Drew and his abilities, hoping that Drew can be more like the player he was in 2013.

"Hopefully, he can put last year behind him and be the player he was before then," Cashman said.

"He has a history of being a really good player prior to a season that didn't play out the way anybody expected.

"It was just something that's so far out of the norm for his capabilities. The contract reflects that and we're certainly hopeful that he can revert back.

"At very least, he can play multiple positions and he's a helluva defender."

The Yankees feel that Drew is a good placeholder for the keystone, giving Refsnyder a full season to get better in the field, and it allows the Yankees to think of Pirela as a utility player either with the big club or with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Pirela will be ready to assume a role when/if the Yankees suffer a positional injury.

The Yankees also feel that if either Pirela or Refsnyder are ripping the cover off the ball and can help the Yankees, Drew’s contract is not a hindrance to their upward movement.

As for what the Yankees can expect from Drew; it’s really a crapshoot. He might not be either of the players he was the last two seasons. It’s hard to expect him to be better than 2013, and difficult to see him performing the same as 2014 with complete spring training reps.

Steamer, via FanGraphs, projects Drew to slash .221/.297/.364 with 19 doubles, 11 home runs and an 84 wRC+. That’s good for a 1.0 fWAR. Those are not exactly encouraging numbers, but it’s not easy to argue with them considering last season’s debacle. Drew owns career marks of .256/.322/.425 which are very similar to his 2013 season, so he is not far removed from that kind of production.

As far as Drew's fielding at second base, the club feels he can learn the role, again with plenty practice during spring training and along the way of the regular season. In 274 innings at second with the Bombers last season, he looked exactly how you could imagine a player with no experience at the position (-20.3 UZR/150). But, Drew has been a very solid defender at shortstop over his career, so the thought is with time he can be steady at second base.

The Yankees position in the standings, Drew’s performance as well as Pirela's and Refsnyder's progress will be the three weighted factors in determining how long Drew lasts as the starting second baseman. If the Yankees find themselves at the bottom of the American League East by midseason, and one or both of the youngsters is outperforming Drew, the Yanks could make a move.

If Drew happens to look closer to his “baseball card stats” and the Yankees are in a good position in the standings, they would likely let Drew ride out the season. There is little point to disrupting the youngsters if Drew and the team is producing. That is certainly the best case scenario where it concerns the Yanks and Drew at second base in 2015.

The Drew/Yankees arrangement is not exactly a match made in heaven, but it’s one that could benefit both parties and has the ancillary advantage of allowing Pirela and Refsnyder to get valuable reps in Triple-A. It's the true definition of a stop-gap deal.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Photo of Stephen Drew courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.