The Oakland A’s and Stephen Drew face a difficult decision in deciding whether or not the shortstop should stick around for the 2013 season. Drew has a $10 million mutual option in his contract that he and the team must agree upon for him to remain with Oakland next year.
Much has been made of Drew’s contract status. Following the trade of Cliff Pennington to the Arizona Diamondbacks, it seemed that the A’s would certainly pick up the option on Drew. Without alternatives at his position, it was a no-brainer that the team had to bring him back as the shortstop next year.
However, things are slightly more complicated.
For Oakland, $10 million is a steep price to pay, particularly after the club already upped its payroll quite a bit in acquiring Chris Young. For some teams, $10 million might not sound like the biggest risk in the world, but at that salary, Drew would be Oakland’s highest paid player. Retaining him would severely hamper the team’s ability to pursue any other free agents, no matter how moderately priced.
The pressing question is, after shipping Pennington to Arizona does the team really have a choice?
Pennington was not going to set the world on fire with his bat anytime soon, but he was seemingly the only alternative to Drew at shortstop in the A’s organization.
The farm system certainly does not have too many options. Taken as a shortstop right out of high school, 2012 first round draft pick Addison Russell will not be ready to play in the majors for a few years. That leaves Grant Green as the only minor leaguer who might be able to play short, since he was drafted at that position. But Green was moved to the outfield over concerns that he could not play shortstop in the majors. Perhaps he could move back to his original position, but can the A’s afford to rely upon that happening?
As for players on the roster, there does not appear to be anybody other than Drew who could play shortstop. The team does have two middle infielders that it likes in Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks, who both play second base. However, Sizemore is coming off of an ACL tear, and Weeks has enough trouble handling his own position. It is doubtful that the either could pull off what Pennington did, effortlessly moving between second and short.
The list of free agent shortstops is largely unimpressive, as well, meaning that Drew is likely the best option for Oakland next season.
However, despite the dearth of quality alternatives, the decision for the A’s to bring Drew back cannot be an easy one, if only for financial reasons.
Drew, on the other hand, is facing a tough decision of his own.
$10 million is a lot of money for a player coming off of a major injury two seasons ago and sluggish numbers this past year. Drew may decide that he will not make more in free agency. Furthermore, by returning to Oakland, Drew could stand to earn a huge windfall after the 2013 season, if he can return to a high level of play.
The flip side of that coin is that Drew might continue to struggle after the injury. If he scrapes through 2013 with poor numbers, not a lot of teams are going to regard him as a highly valued commodity when he eventually hits the free agent market.
There is always the possibility that Drew could improve his contract in this upcoming off-season. He seemed to get better and better as the 2012 season wore on, the rust from his injury slowly wearing off. He would be one of the top middle infielders to hit the free agent market this off-season and might well draw a big payday from a team in desperate need of an everyday shortstop.
Even if Drew cannot find a team willing to pay him $10 million next season, he may still jump ship if another team offers him a longer term deal that gives him a lower salary but better security.
Yet another potential factor in Drew’s decision is that Scott Boras is his agent. Boras is the best in baseball at maximizing his clients’ paydays, and that could encourage Drew to hit the open market.
In the end, while it may be in Oakland’s best interests to retain Stephen Drew, it is not entirely up to the team. If the front office decides it wants to keep the shortstop, and it likely will, it will also have to convince him that the A’s are his best option next year.
If Drew does decide to seek his fortune elsewhere, then the A’s will have to find a backup plan and fill the void his departure would leave.