Over the last decade or so, the Red Sox quest to find just the right shortstop has become something of their white whale. A seemingly never-ending search, with one find a temporary fix until the next. The result: Over the last 10 seasons, eight different Opening Day shortstops, with just two Marco Scutaro in 2010-2011 and Julio Lugo in 2007-08 making consecutive starts since 2003.
The Sox will extend that list as Stephen Drew will be the next Opening Day shortstop in 2013. Whether Drew, who agreed to a one-year, 9.5 million contract on Wednesday, remains so beyond that remains to be seen.
But with highly regarded prospect Xander Bogaerts along with Jose Iglesias in the organization, perhaps one year is all the Sox need.
I dont really know, Drew said on a Thursday afternoon conference call with his agent Scott Boras. Coming into this, being a free agent for the first time, just kind of didnt know where Id be at and where Id land. I think Im a good fit in Boston.
I cant really say where Im going to be at at the end of this year after Bostons seasons over. Im just going to play it by ear and see what happens. Im just really excited to be there and I know its going to be a good fit for me.
Drew, the younger brother of former Sox right fielder J.D. Drew, turns 30 in March. He was the Diamondbacks first-round (15th overall) pick in 2004 out of Florida State. Over seven major league seasons, he has posted a career .265 average, with a .328 OBP, and .433 SLG. His most productive season was arguably 2008, when hit .291 with 21 home runs, and 67 RBI in 152 games, all career highs.
But in 2012, Drew struggled in his return to the field after breaking his right ankle July 20, 2011, when he was thrown out sliding into the plate against the Brewers. He did not appear in a game again until June 27, 2011.
Last season, he appeared in a combined 79 games between Arizona and Oakland, which acquired him in a trade Aug. 20. He hit .223, with a .309 on-base percentage, and .348 slugging percentage, all career lows. In 75 games at shortstop, he posted a .972 fielding percentage, also a career low, off his .978 career average and .984 career best in 2010. Drew had a career-worst 0-for-22 streak between the Diamondbacks and As.
With the As in September, though, he hit .263, going 30-for-114, with five home runs, 14 RBI, 12 walks along with 34 strikeouts a .331 on-base percentage, and .421 slugging percentage in 29 games. In five postseason games, he hit .211.286.316 with one RBI, two walks and seven strikeouts.
Hes anxious to see what a fully healed ankle will allow him to do.
Ankles doing well, he said. In the response of doing all the rehab stuff for about a year with that bad ankle injury, its doing very well and Ive been very pleased with it. Put a lot of hard work into it. Not knowing where Id be at this past season and it coming back strong at the end of the season really gave me confidence. The ankles doing tremendous.
My overall health is fine. This past year and this year, this offseason Ive been working really hard because I know how the ankle was with that injury. Having that whole year of working out and doing the rehab stuff, my overall health is actually better than its probably every been.
Boras believes the pairing of his client and the Sox is a good one.
We really felt that that was kind of a match made for what strengths Stephen has as a hitter and what the ballpark in Boston provides, Boras said. We fully expect a very successful season and also I think its going to give the Red Sox and Red Sox fans a chance to see a player that Im not sure everyone really understands the talent level of Stephen Drew. I think after this year I think everyones going to think a lot differently about what type of player Stephen is and the impact he can have on a division-contending team.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre, another Boras client, had a one-year stint with the Sox, in 2010 a highly productive season when he lead the American League with 49 doubles, was an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger -- before leaving for the Rangers in free agency and a lucrative five-year deal. While there were other teams reportedly interested in Drew for more than one year, he preferred the one-year deal in Boston.
I think at the end of the day we kind of sat down and said what teams need a shortstop and whos playing second and like the field, which thats going to benefit me, Drew said. And I think Boston was the best fit for us.
Its going to be fun playing with Dustin Pedroia. I played against him but actually to play with a good second basemans going to be a really good opportunity for me.
The last 18 months since the injury was kind of crazy Drew said. Going through a long rehab after a debilitating injury was tough on him and his family. Getting traded for the first time in his career and transitioning to a new team were adjustments.
Drew also took some heat in Arizona -- including from Diamondbacks president Ken Kendrick -- for the length of his rehab. Some thought Drew should have returned much sooner. It was not unlike some heat that older brother J.D. occasionally took in Boston for playing with what was perceived to be a lack of intensity or urgency.
That did not factor into the younger brothers decision to join the Sox.
No, I dont think its a concern, he said. I think I understand Boston. The teams been around a long time and their fans are really passionate. They have a right to be. As players going through hard times, its not that easy. I think every player wants to do good. Thats just part of your business, part of the job. You go out and play and prepare hard every day and just leave it out there on the field. That's all you can do. At the end of the day, you go home and think about things and go back and try to fix it. As players you kind of got to adapt or adjust just like you do in the middle of an at-bat to what pitchers are doing. Theres always game adjustments, just like when theres hard times.
There was actually a positive from the injury, though, Boras said.
Stephens actually come through this with greater defensive acumen as far as range after the ankle injury than before because of the fact that he has worked so diligently and hard on his conditioning and on his lateral movement in preparing to come back and play, Boras said. But keep in mind this player has come back and played a full near third of the season in advance of him coming in. So as far as the ankle injury thats something I think is well behind us and we have a very healthy player coming to Boston to play every day.