March 22nd, 2014
The Tigers addressed a major void coming out of last year’s Spring Training with a free-agent signing just after Opening Day. Could they do the same for a second consecutive season?
If they end up signing Stephen Drew to play shortstop, that’s the most likely scenario in which they can do it. Whether it’s going to happen might not be completely clear until April 1, the day after the Tigers open the season against the Royals at Comerica Park.
A Detroit Free Press report that Drew would be open to a one-year contract to join the Tigers has been seconded, removing one potential obstacle on his end to a deal. It’s believed to be a change from previous reports which suggested Drew would be willing to sign a two-year contract with a player opt-out after the first season, but not a straight one-year deal.
The different stances are two routes towards the same goal for Drew, to avoid a repeat of the draft compensation rules that have seemingly impacted his market since December. Once the Boston Red Sox, Drew’s 2013 team, made a qualifying offer that was declined, they ensured any other team would have to give up a pick from this summer’s Draft to sign him. In the Tigers’ case, that pick would be a first-rounder, currently the 23rd overall selection.
Whether Drew signs before or after Opening Day does not affect that current rule. The only way for the Tigers to sign him without surrendering a first-round pick would be to wait until after the Draft, scheduled for June 5-7, to sign him. The difference in Drew waiting until after Opening Day is that the signing team wouldn’t be able to make him a qualifying offer after the season. It’s essentially a turn on the rule that says players that change teams in midseason can’t fall under the qualifying offer rules.
The tradeoff amounts to gaining short-term flexibility in exchange for giving up a chance to recoup the draft pick it would take to sign him. Thus, the questions whittle down to financial, finding common ground on a one-year salary (the Red Sox qualifying offer was worth $14.1 million; the Tigers payroll is crossing the $150 million mark this year), and philosophical, whether the draft pick is more or less valuable than one season of the player to fill what is expected to be a one-year void caused by Jose Iglesias’ stress fractures.
The two sides reached a deal shortly after last Opening Day (after much disagreement and similarly mixed signals) on Jose Valverde, who signed about a week after Detroit optioned would-be closer Bruce Rondon to Triple-A Toledo. Drew, obviously, is a different player with different implications and prices filling a different void at shortstop.
Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski declined comment on Drew when reporters asked him Thursday, as is his practice with free agents. He said earlier this week he did not anticipate making a big deal to add a shortstop, then swung a minor trade with the Angels on Friday to add left-handed hitting utility infielder Andrew Romine, who would be in line to platoon with either utilityman Danny Worth or middle infield prospect Hernan Perez, barring another addition.
Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, had no comment on any negotiations, but denied a report on twitter that he was telling teams Drew had a three-year, $39 million offer on the table from a club.
“If a GM can’t attribute his name, it’s called darts,” Boras said of the report, which cited an unnamed general manager.
The draft pick compensation seemingly has had a major impact on the 31-year-old Drew, a defensive cog on a Red Sox club that won the World Series last fall. His 3.4 Wins Above Replacement, going by the FanGraphs formula, ranked sixth out of 18 Major League shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances last season, essentially tying him with All-Stars J.J. Hardy and Jean Segura.
Much of that total came from Drew’s defense, though his offensive value in 2013 placed him in the top five among Major League shortstops according to Fangraphs. When he gets close to a full season, his WAR values are fairly good.
If he doesn’t sign until after Opening Day, he obviously wouldn’t get in a full season. His readiness would determine how close he’d get. Drew has been working out with other free agents in South Florida, which is believed to be where any workouts for teams have taken place. The ramp-up to physical readiness is not expected to be an issue. The bigger priority would be to get his timing at the plate against professional level pitchers that have had a full Spring Training, either in simulated games or extended camp.