Commentary

Drew will be bridge to future at SS

Question for Red Sox is whether Iglesias will be his successor or a trade chip

Updated: December 17, 2012, 12:15 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

The scout was a former major leaguer with a career batting average below the Mendoza line.

Like everyone else who has seen Jose Iglesias play, he loved the shortstop's glove. But when asked at the end of last season whether the Red Sox could enter 2013 with Iglesias as their everyday shortstop, he didn't mince words.

[+] EnlargeDrew
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesBefore a gruesome ankle injury, Stephen Drew had the third-highest OPS for a shortstop from 2008-10.

"That would be like the Red Sox counting on me to be one of their starters,'' he said. "No chance.''

That scenario no longer is in play, not after the Red Sox signed another Drew brother, Stephen, to a one-year deal for $9.5 million. Drew's brother, J.D., played five seasons for the Red Sox, retiring after the 2011 season.

For Stephen Drew and the Red Sox, there is hope that this contract will play out the way it did for another Scott Boras client. in 2010, Adrian Beltre opted for a one-year deal with the Sox to re-establish his market value and responded with one of the best seasons of his career, paving the way for him to sign a lucrative contract with the Texas Rangers.

For Iglesias, who will turn 23 on Jan. 5, this undoubtedly comes as a bitter setback, though it was less than two weeks ago, at the winter meetings in Nashville, when Sox GM Ben Cherington hinted that something like this might be coming.

"We're just trying to be opportunistic on [shortstop]," Cherington said. "We feel Jose is ready to compete for the job. We're not ready to give it to him."

Iglesias had just eight hits in 77 plate appearances in the big leagues. He had twice as many whiffs (16) as hits, and in one September game was unconscionably lifted for a pinch-hitter by manager Bobby Valentine in the middle of an at-bat (with a 2-and-2 count), the ultimate no-confidence vote.

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The Cuban defector has just more than 1,000 plate appearances in pro ball and clearly needs more work at the plate, an apprenticeship perhaps best served back in Pawtucket. That might come as a bit of a surprise for new PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina, judging by the joke he made last week at the news conference announcing his signing.

DiSarcina posed for pictures wearing a No. 10 uniform jersey. "That's Iggy's number,'' he said. "If he comes back here, he'll have to pay for it.''

Until Drew was signed, the question was whether Iglesias' unmatched defense -- "There isn't a better shortstop in the game -- at any level," one Sox talent evaluator said in Nashville -- would offset the minimal contributions he would make with his bat. That debate has now been set aside, though it raises other questions.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, the consensus top prospect in the Sox organization, has already advanced to Double-A, with a bat that projects as All-Star quality in the big leagues. With the 20-year-old Bogaerts in the wings, will Iglesias ever be an everyday shortstop for the Red Sox, who bet big on him when they signed him out of Cuba, giving him a $6 million signing bonus as part of a four-year, $8.25 million deal? Or is it more likely that he becomes a trading chip before he ever realizes that ambition?

As for Drew, he comes with considerably more baggage than Beltre, who quickly demonstrated that all he needed to do was be in a better hitter's ballpark than Seattle's Safeco Field to become the same offensive force he had been with the Dodgers.

[+] EnlargeJose Iglesias
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaJose Iglesias' future in Boston is murky: Is he the shortstop of the future or will he be trade bait?

Like his brother J.D., Drew was a first-round draft pick out of Florida State, chosen 15th overall by the Diamondbacks in 2004. J.D. was in the big leagues two months after he signed; Stephen spent just one season in the minors before he made it. By age 24 he had become the team's everyday shortstop, playing an average of 147 games per season from 2007 to 2010. In the last three years of that span, his .800 OPS was exceeded by only two shortstops, Hanley Ramirez (.917) and Troy Tulowitzki (.883), and while he was considered average defensively, he made just 10 errors in 2010.

But on July 21, 2011, Drew sustained a gruesome injury to his right ankle, which was turned nearly 180 degrees while sliding into home plate. He fractured his fibula and tore ligaments in the ankle.

He did not return until the following June 20, missing 137 games and drawing the ire of Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, who in a radio interview questioned Drew's determination to return.

"I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now, frankly," Kendrick said. "I, for one, am disappointed. I'm going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than on going out and supporting the team that's paying his salary."

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Drew and Boras took strong exception to Kendrick's comments, but there was no apology, and less than two months later, with Drew batting just .193, there was a waiver deal with Oakland, one in which Arizona received a non-prospect in return. With Drew approaching free agency, Arizona had already given up hope of re-signing him, and Kendrick's comments made a return out of the question.

Drew played well enough in his short time in Oakland (.250/.326/.382) to draw interest from the Athletics in re-signing him, although both the team and player declined the $10 million mutual option Drew held for 2013.

Drew can earn that amount with the Red Sox, as $500,000 in performance bonuses is attached to the deal. He comes to a town where the appreciation for his brother's skills was frequently accompanied by grumbling that he did less than the size of his contract warranted, and by complaints that he allowed minor injuries to keep him from playing.

Stephen Drew doesn't have to settle in for the long haul. He will be 30 in March, a year younger than Beltre was when he became an All-Star for the first time in his career with the Red Sox, then moved on. The Sox would be ecstatic if Drew's experience here follows a similar arc.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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