While the New York Mets finally decided to open their checkbook during free agency this offseason, there is still a significant upgrade on the market that’d help them immensely. Stephen Drew, who played shortstop for the World Champion Boston Red Sox last season, is still a free agent mere days before pitchers and catchers report. Drew is represented by superagent Scott Boras, which comes with the assumption that he’s asking for the moon in contract negotiations, but on the cusp of the season, it’d behoove both men to get a deal done and get Drew into camp with his new (or old) team.
Drew’s market has never really materialized given his injury history, contract demands and the fact that any team aside from Boston that signs him will lose their first-round draft pick unless it falls in the top 10. Enter the Mets.
After watching Jose Reyes leave via free agency a few years back, New York thought they had Reyes’ replacement in the system in young Ruben Tejada. After a very promising season as the full time starter in 2012, Tejada struggled mightily last season, posting an astoundingly bad -0.3 WAR (wins above replacement) and was eventually demoted to Triple A Las Vegas in June. Although he returned as a call-up when rosters expanded in September, the damage had been done.
Shortstop was thought to be one of the major holes that the Mets needed to fill this offseason, but the months have slowly rolled by, with Tejada still the incumbent for 2014. The Mets do have shortstops Wilfredo Tovar and Gavin Cecchini in their system, but neither is anywhere close to being ready to start at the major league level.
Aside from their glaring need for a reliable shortstop, the other advantage the Mets possess is that they do pick in the top 10 in this year’s draft, meaning they will only have to forfeit their 3rd round pick if they were to sign Drew (they already lost their 2nd round pick earlier for signing Curtis Granderson, so the selection defaults to the next highest pick owned).
The draft pick stipulation is attached because the Red Sox offered Drew a qualifying offer, a one year deal at the average of the top 125 player salaries last season, which he promptly declined in search of a long term deal. While Drew can still sign with the Red Sox, Boston would end up with a compensatory pick at the end of the first round of the draft if another team signs Drew, perhaps lessening their desire to give him the deal he covets.
The Mets continue to be guarded about their interest in Drew and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not Mets GM Sandy Alderson is content with to roll with Tejada, whom he had some very choice words for this offseason. Much like last season, when Boras client Michael Bourn was faced with a similar situation, it’s likely to be a matter of who blinks first.
If the Mets pass on Drew and Tejada continues to struggle, there’s little in terms of other options available. As discussed, Tovar and Cecchini are at least a few years away, if either makes it, which would likely send Alderson back to the drawing board in next year’s free agency, with shortstops such as Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera and JJ Hardy potentially available. Of course, there’s also no guarantee that New York finishes with a top 10 protected pick next season, meaning that if any of those players were tendered a qualifying offer, the Mets would have to surrender their 2015 1st round pick to sign him.
Although signing Drew wouldn’t transform the Mets into a contender for anything other than the 2nd Wild Card, he would solidify a position that the team practically nothing out of last season. If healthy, Drew is an above average defender and is routinely among the shortstop leaders in OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage). It’s not out of the realm of possibility that, over the course of a full season, Drew could provide as much as a three win upgrade.
Even without Matt Harvey, New York’s rotation should be able to keep them in most games and they hope the added pop in the form of Granderson, Chris Young and a full season of Travis D’Arnaud will improve the offense. If that comes to pass, adding Drew would be just another step in the team’s march back to respectability.
One thing is for sure, Met fans would love to find out.