A Novel Solution for the Detroit Tigers Shortstop Problem


Going into the offseason, I was guardedly optimistic regarding Jose Iglesias – not full of effervescent enthusiasm. Expecting a guy to give you 2 WAR with his glove, to make a replacement-level bat a league-average player is an iffy proposition even if you know the guy’s defensive tools are elite. The outlook is a little different already… Iglesias’ recurring shin issues could keep him on the shelf for a while, or cause him to shuffle on and off the DL throughout the season. Since the assumption would be that it’s the intensive agility training that’s causing the lingering pain to begin with, I begin to wonder if in the long run Iglesias is going to have to train less (and be a less agile defender when healthy as a result) in order to stay off the DL. The Tigers immediate depth at the shortstop position is not a strong suit: either untried, green prospects OR a guy like Steve Lombardozzi whose ideal position is anything but shortstop.

Oct 23, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew (7) cannot get to a single by St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Allen Craig (21) in the fourth inning during game one of the MLB baseball World Series at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

All this has been enough to make a lot of fans wish that the Tigers still had Jhonny Peralta – and can you blame them? Peralta didn’t have the defensive range, but he had a steady glove, a solid bat (especially for a shortstop) and stayed in the lineup consistently (when not suspended). The Tigers probably didn’t have the money to spend on Peralta – even if they had not swung the trade last summer to acquire Iglesias – but he would look like an even more attractive way to spend $13 million today than he did in November. Peralta is not, of course, available – so there’s no point in crying over spilt milk. There is one guy who IS available, though, and his name is Steven Drew.

If you go by career numbers, age, etc… Peralta and Drew don’t look that different (they even show the same extreme inconsistency from year to year at the plate). Drew has been marginally better on D, but has had some of his key offensive peripherals trending in very much the wrong direction. Drew is one of two remaining “top”-tier (middle tier, really) free agents still available in March. The reason that he’s still available is clear, the qualifying offer and draft pick compensation, and that is why you aren’t likely to hear many people expressing enthusiasm for a Stephen Drew signing in Detroit (assuming Mike Ilitch was willing to put some more millions into this year’s roster).

What we need is a special solution – one that was discussed a few years back when similar compensation issues kept free agents from finding landing spots, to the loud dismay of the MLBPA. We need a sign-and-trade deal, which would require the league and the union to allow players to waive the provision that forbids newly acquired free agents from being traded before June. This is common in the NBA, but there provisions for it are written into the CBA whereas here that is most definitely not the case. I am certain that the players union would be in favor. I am certain that Boston and Stephen Drew himself would be in favor. I see no reason why the league would be opposed in principle, aside from a desire to see rules formally codified prior to the beginning of an offseason rather than rewritten on the fly. Parties involved could expect to have a energetic lobbyist in favor of sign-and-trade in Scott Boras, who’s stuck with a Morales that he can’t move. The fact is, Stephen Drew (and Kendrys Morales) are not bad players but horribly misjudged their actual appeal on the free agent market: both would have conceivably have been better off accepting the qualifying offer even if it did not penalize a signing team, because they wouldn’t have been likely to get a larger AAV on a multi-year deal anyway. The fact that they did so is a cautionary tale, but it isn’t going to have any kind of happy ending for anyone involved (and will make the QE system look like a yoke around free agents’ necks when it comes time to negotiate the next CBA) without a revision to the rules. It is not in the league’s best interests to allow Drew and Morales to sit, adrift, until they can sign midseason without any need for draft pick compensation.

Likewise it is emphatically not in the Detroit Tigers best interests to sacrifice their first round draft pick to sign Stephen Drew, even if he would sign for league minimum. The only way he would make sense is on a one-year deal, for significantly less than the $14 million he turned down from Boston, with a significantly lower prospect cost than a first-rounder. Drew is likely to wind up jobless until July if nothing happens, so we know he’s likely to be thrilled at the prospect – in particular the fact that he’d be ineligible for a QE no matter how well he plays as a result of the trade. Boston stands to get a sandwich pick if Drew signs elsewhere (which he is almost certainly not going to do) soon, they appear to have and have had absolutely zero interest in using him themselves, but stand to get absolutely no compensation for him if he does wait until midseason to sign. What I’m picturing is a deal in which Boston would sign Drew for 1 year and $9 million with an explicit agreement to trade him to Detroit for (hypothetically) Wilsen Palacios.

Is it likely to happen? Probably not. The effort involved to get an exemption made might just be more than anyone bar Boras would consider worthwhile. If it could be done, though, I’d see it as a clear win-win-win-win-win situation.