All’s quiet on the Stephen Drew front. Teams speculated as possible destinations for Drew keep denying interest. The Mets are the most recent. These denials and no comments don’t necessarily mean Drew won’t find a home eventually. They do mean, however, that he will likely not take the field before mid June. The First-Year Player Draft (as it’s now called) is only a month away, so interested teams will keep their pistol in the holster until after the draft, when they don’t have to surrender a high pick.
Once Drew is free of the albatross of forfeiting a high draft pick he will sign with some one. Should that some one be the Detroit Tigers?
The Tigers are off to a hot start, sporting the best record in baseball and a eight game bulge in the loss column over second place Chicago. Thirty games into the schedule that doesn’t really mean much, other than the Tigers don’t have to dig out of a huge hole. It also suggests that all is well in Tiger land. The offense is humming along. The starting pitching is once again laying waste to the league. The bullpen, especially the back end, has stabilized somewhat. Even the defense, so cringe-worthy last year and early this season, has started moving up the rankings of the team Defensive Efficiency ratings. The Tigers are now fourth in the American League. That climb started not so coincidentally when the Tigers gave up on the Alex Gonzalez dream. Andrew Romine and Danny Worth have eliminated most of the defensive problems at shortstop. Drew, of course, is a shortstop. If what the Tigers have at short is working why throw money at something that doesn’t need fixing?
Here are a few reasons why:
1. Drew is a competent defensive shortstop. He has consistently posted a positive UZR (using the formula at fangraphs), including last year and in five of the last six years. He lacks the range of Jose Iglesias, but then again so does everyone else. He would not be a significant downgrade from Romine or Worth.
2. He would be a significant upgrade in offense. Last year Drew posted an OPS of .777 (.337 wOBA). In his career he has a .764 OPS. Worth in the few scraps of at-bats he’s had in the major leagues has managed a measly .617 OPS. Romine in 255 plates appearances sits at .576. Nothing suggests either will come close to equaling Drew’s offense.
3. Drew tends to do his best work in the second half. And that will be his season this year. In his career, Drew has a 796 (.342 wOBA) in the second half and .726 (.319 wOBA) in the first half. Last year, the split was .722/.832, which helps allay fears about his 2012 offensive dip (.657 OPS). There’s probably a lot of noise here, but in the six years Drew has played an entire season he has been markedly better in the second half in five of those. That includes his last three healthy seasons (2013, 2012, and 2010). What effect the two-and-a-half month layoff has on him remains to be seen, but he’d be returning to baseball at his favorite time of year.
4. He will add balance to the lineup. The Tigers lean heavily right-handed. Drew hits from the left side. Detroit has .746 OPS against righties and a .814 against portsiders. They are 9-2 in games started by lefties and only 11-8 against righties. It’s too early too call any of this a pressing concern. And the Tigers OPS against RHP is still well above the league average. But Drew’s .795 career OPS against RHP could come in handy against tough right-hander pitchers, especially in the playoffs. And some of the Tigers hitting well right now against everyone, especially Rajai Davis, will likely regress to career norms. When that happens trouble against righties could intensify. Last year, Drew murdered RHP, posting a .876 OPS (.378 wOBA). A rotation of Drew and Romine/Worth, with Drew playing against RHPs and Romine/Worth being used strategically against LHPs could be formidable. And if Iglesais does return late in the season, mixing and matching Drew and the young shortstop could yield strong results for the Tigers.
5. Drew is still in his prime. He just turned 31 in March. Yes, he’s past his absolute prime years but age really isn’t a concern yet. Plus, he’s only two-and-a-half years older than both Worth and Romine.
If the Tigers could snare Drew on a one-year deal, they should go all in, money be damned. Things get foggier on a multiple year deal, because the Tigers still have their shortstop of the future in Iglesais. It might be tempting, however, to bring Drew back for another season, to provide insurance in the event Iglesais proves injury prone or wildly ineffective at the plate. And the Tigers could always use more depth and another decent left-handed bat.