Need for Stephen Drew more obvious than ever two weeks into the season

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Yesterday was pretty damn close to a disaster day for the Yankees. Before their 3-2 win over the Red Sox, we learned Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts were day-to-day with a sore quad and back, respectively. Jeter missed just about all of last season with various leg problems and Roberts has missed most of the last four years with all different kinds of injuries. Any sort of physical malady is a red flag with these two.

Then, during the actual game, Frankie Cervelli went down with a right hamstring injury. He had an MRI last night and while the results are not yet available, it sure seems like he is headed for the DL based on the way he crumbled to the ground and limped off the field. Two innings later, Yangervis Solarte appeared to hurt his leg running through first base, but it turns out he took an errant fist below the belt. Don’t ask me how. Soon after that, Brian McCann was hit in the bare hand after a pitch deflected off A.J. Pierzynski’s elbow guard. It looked bad but he is apparently okay. Catchers, man.

In the span of about seven hours, the Yankees almost lost a full infield worth of players. That’s how Carlos Beltran wound up playing first base for the first time in his life last night. The Jeter and Roberts injuries were somewhat predictable given their age and recent injury history — Girardi told Vince Mercogliano that Jeter “went through some (quad) tightness in Spring Training that he got through. He had it in his calf at one point, and he got through it,” which isn’t exactly reassuring — while Cervelli, Solarte, and McCann were a bit more fluky. Cervelli hasn’t been all that durable throughout his career though, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

Girardi confirmed Jeter is not scheduled to have any tests and an MRI on Roberts’ back came back negative, so those two are nothing more than day-to-day. That said, the season is 13 games old and the team’s starting middle infielders are already dealing with physical issues. Brendan Ryan is out with a back problem too. I have a very hard time believing these will be one-time injuries. And, even if the are, the Yankees can not treat them that way. They came into the season with questions about their infield (both production and health) and so far nothing has changed. Sunday was a reminder from the baseball gods.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

You’re smart, you know where I’m going with this. Stephen Drew remains unsigned and is just sitting there waiting for a job. He would cost the Yankees only money, their second round pick (55th overall), and a 40-man roster spot. Drew, who is said to be willing to play another infield position, would fit the roster like a glove as a defensively capable shortstop with a dead pull left-handed swing geared for Yankee Stadium’s short porch. Remember, even when Roberts was perfectly healthy, he was a total zero at the plate (37 wRC+). Long, pain in the ass at-bats (4.56 pitches per plate appearance) are great, but at some point he has to get on base.

The second base problem is one Drew can help correct, either directly (playing there) or indirectly (playing third with Kelly Johnson at second). He’d give the Yankees protection for Jeter and heck, they could sign him to a two-year contract and have their 2015 shortstop situation already sorted out rather than waiting for the offseason. Of course, Scott Boras isn’t an idiot, he knows the Yankees are in desperate need of infield help, especially after the Jeter and Roberts injury scares. I don’t think he’ll take a sweetheart deal (two years, $16-20M?) despite his client’s continued unemployment. But man, it’s a great fit on paper.

The Yankees came into today’s off-day with a 7-6 record and a -5 run differential, but I think they’ve played pretty well overall. Following some early-season struggles, the offense have been productive and diverse, ranking in the league top six in AVG (.273), OBP (.335), ISO (.154), and steals (11). Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have added a new and exciting dimension to the rotation, and the increased use of infield shifts has helped defensively. The Yankees committed all that money this winter in an effort to win now, but the job is incomplete as long as the infield remains status quo. The team needed Drew before the season and they need him even more right now.

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Heyman: Yankees have talked to Drew recently, payroll is “tapped out”

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees have spoken to Stephen Drew and agent Scott Boras recently, but they are “tapped out” financially and can not hand out another sizable contract. I don’t buy that they can’t take on more money for a second, so this sounds like posturing more than anything.

The need on the infield is obvious, especially in the wake of Brendan Ryan‘s back injury. Both Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte have no MLB experience but at least one of them will be on the Opening Day roster at this point. We’ve discussed Drew ad nauseum here and nothing has changed, really. He would help the Yankees quite a bit, especially if he’s willing to accept a one-year deal and play another position (presumably third).

Mailbag: Sabathia, Drew, Leads, Headley, Diaz

Got eight questions for you this week, so most of the answers are short. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, comments, links, whatever.

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

Matt asks: There has been much made, so far this spring and in the past, about CC Sabathia‘s decrease in velocity, which got me to thinking: What kind of contract do you think he would have received, had he been on the open market this past off-season?

This question came in a few days ago, so I’ve been mulling it over for a while, and … I have no idea. On one hand, Sabathia’s velocity is down and the chances of him being in a permanent decline are rather high. On the other hand, the dude is still a workhorse of the first order and his track record is as good as it gets. Sabathia is also super accountable and good in the community, making him the type of person teams want on their roster.

Given his age and workload and all that, I think Sabathia would have wound up with a shorter term deal for big dollars this winter. Not a four or five-year contract or anything like that. Something more along the lines of how the Giants handled Tim Lincecum. Would two years and $40M with a vesting option for a third year have worked? There are three years (plus a vesting option) and $71M left on Sabathia’s contract right now, so 2/40 wouldn’t be a huge step down. Just a pretty big one.

Brad asks: Most analysis at this point indicates that Michael Pineda (if healthy) will win the 5th starter job, while David Phelps and Adam Warren are favorites for bullpen spots. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to keep one of the latter two candidates stretched out in the AAA rotation?

I think that will be Vidal Nuno‘s role, the sixth starter in Triple-A. If both Warren and Phelps are in the bullpen, I assume one would be a traditional long reliever (likely Warren), and going from long relief to a starter isn’t too tough. Considering the state of the bullpen, I think the Yankees have to focus on taking the best arms north at the end of camp. Nuno will be in Triple-A as the extra starter, giving the team some freedom with Phelps and Warren.

Paul asks: What is the market for Stephen Drew at this point? Am I being a typical unrealistic greedy Yankee fan when I’m hoping/expecting him to join us soon?

There have not been many updates on Drew recently, other than his former Red Sox teammates speculating he wishes he had accepted the qualifying offer. The Yankees could obviously still use him on the infield, but the longer he goes unsigned, the less likely it is I think the Yankees will sign him. Drew would have to change positions — I’m guessed he’d move to third, not second — and that’s something he’d need to work on in Spring Training since he’s never played anywhere other than short. There is only about two weeks left in camp, so he’s running out of time to prepare for the position change. I’d love to see the Yankees sign him, but it’s clear it’s a long shot at this point.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Warren asks: So I was wondering how lead size effects base stealing. I feel like Brett Gardner in particular takes enormous leads compared to people of equal or lesser speed who steal more. I was wondering if there was a way to measure if he was taking such a large lead that it results in too much attention. He almost has to constantly be leaning back towards first. Is there any way to measure if other base stealers like Jacoby Ellsbury have more success by giving up a foot or two of lead to get a better jump?

Lead size definitely affects base-stealing. The bigger the lead, the more likely it is the pitcher will throw over. The more the pitcher throws over, the more the runner has to hurry back to the bag. The more he does that, the more tired he gets. The more tired he gets, the less likely he is to steal or steal successfully. The size of a player’s lead definitely plays a role in his base-stealing success.

How can we measure this? Other than going back and watching video of everytime a player was on base and taking a lead, I’m not sure. Hopefully this is something that MLBAM’s new player’s tracker system will cover because it is definitely a part of the game we don’t know a whole lot about. What’s the relationship between lead size and likelihood of a pickoff attempt? Is there such a thing as an optimal lead? Probably, I just have no idea what it is.

Eric asks: You can either have a starting pitcher who is guaranteed to strike everyone out once every five days, or a hitter who is guaranteed to hit a home run every time up. Which one would you choose?

I’ll take the hitter, no doubt about it. You can bat him as low as third and still guarantee he’d get no fewer than four at-bats in every game, so that’s at least four runs right there. I think that, over the course of the 162-game season, you would win more games scoring at least four runs every time out than you would by getting a guaranteed shutout (perfect game, really) every fifth day. Just my opinion. Not sure if there’s a way to test this mathematically.

Andrew asks: Do you think MLB will ever make and enforce a rule requiring identical field dimensions across baseball?

I do not think MLB would do it and I sure hope they don’t. One of my favorite things about baseball are the unique parks and dimensions. No other sport has that. MLB has minimum standards and things like that, but otherwise the shape and size of the field is up to the individual teams. It’s great, I love it.

Tucker asks: How strong of a push do you the think the Yankees will make next winter to sign Chase Headley? It seems inevitable to me.

Headley would be a really good fit as a switch-hitter with power, patience, and good defense at third base, there’s no doubt about it. I wonder if the Yankees will be open to signing another huge contract so soon though. Maybe if they somehow get rid of Alex Rodriguez and the money he’s owed, but otherwise if they were to sign Headley to something along the lines of six years and $108M (total guess), they’d have seven players making at least $17M in both 2015 and 2016. It works out to $146M for seven players each year. Unless the team increases payroll by quite a bit or their farm system suddenly starts cranking out players, I’m not sure if they would go for that. On paper, yeah Headley makes a ton of sense.

Jon asks: Given the relatively small contract for which he signed, do you think Aledmys Diaz would have been worth taking a flier on? The Yankees certainly have a bigger need for a young middle-infielder than the Cards. Maybe the guy isn’t that great but I’ll place my faith in the Cards scouting over the Yanks.

It seems pretty obvious Diaz just isn’t all that good, or at least teams don’t expect him to be all that good given his contract. The scouting reports said he might end up a utility infielder and that’s what he wound up with, utility man dollars. Just $2M annually. The Cardinals are obviously very well run by they aren’t infallible. The Yankees had him in for a workout and that’s more than they’ve done for any international player in a long time. It’s not like they didn’t do their homework.

Marchand: Yankees remain uninterested in Stephen Drew

Via Andrew Marchand: The Yankees continue to have no interest in Stephen Drew even though they now know Derek Jeter will retire following the season. For what it’s worth, Buster Olney (subs. req’d) says several teams are concerned about the infielder’s medicals, specifically regarding his right ankle. He suffered a severe break and torn ligaments when he caught spike sliding into home plate back in 2011.

I’ve said I believe Drew is a good fit for the Yankees more times than I care to count by now, though I think the team may be waiting to see what happens with Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz before pursuing Drew. Diaz, as I explained in yesterday’s mailbag, is eligible to sign next Wednesday and the Yankees have been scouting him since last summer. If they spend big bucks on an infielder, they might prefer to spend it on the 23-year-old Diaz rather than the 30-year-old Drew. I dunno, we’ll see.

Rubin: Drew wants multi-year deal with opt-out after first year

Via Adam Rubin: Stephen Drew and agent Scott Boras are currently seeking a multi-year contract that includes an opt-out clause after the first season. The Mets are not willing to do a deal like that and it’s unclear if the Red Sox, his only other apparent suitor at this point, would be open to the opt-out.

The Yankees have not been pursuing Drew in recent weeks but their infield is a mess and he is by far the best available infielder. He’s a really good fit, especially since Boras has already said he’s open to playing positions other than shortstop. Since the Bombers would only have to give up their second rounder to sign Drew, they could conceivably wind up with a better draft pick next year if he has a strong Yankee Stadium-aided season and opts out. I dunno, this seems like one of those moves that won’t happen because it makes too much sense.

The Yankees, Stephen Drew, and the worst part of the hot stove season

When the Yankees agreed to sign Masahiro Tanaka to his massive seven-year contract, it eliminated any small remaining chance they would stay under the $189M luxury tax threshold this coming season. Their payroll currently sits around $204M and, based on their Opening Day payrolls over the last three years, it appears they have another $10M or so to spend. Once you’re over the threshold, might as well go way over, right? Fill out the rest of the roster as needed.

As Joe mentioned earlier, the Yankees were predictably connected to free agent shortstop Stephen Drew less than two days after the ink dried on the Tanaka contract. Jon Heyman had the news:

The Yankees are now considering free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, which could potentially put another dent in the rival Red Sox’s up-the-middle alignment only weeks after the Yankees signed Boston star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

There has been a thought the Yankees might be willing to keep spending after landing star Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. But while there doesn’t seem to be a push for another top starter or reliever, Drew is one free agent the Yankees are at least weighing, according to people familiar with their thinking … Although the Yankees apparently aren’t quite a bottomless pit of cash, a possible run at Drew “depends on the price” according to a person familiar with their thinking.

This makes sense, right? The Yankees have an obvious need for infield help and Drew is substantially better than any other free agent infielder left on the market. Agent Scott Boras has indicated Drew is willing to play somewhere other than his natural shortstop position according to Peter Gammons, which is good because Derek Jeter isn’t going to change positions. I know it, you know it, and the Yankees know it. It ain’t happening.

Now, just a little more than 14 hours after Heyman’s initial report, Buster Olney reported this:

Ken Rosenthal backed up Olney’s report, saying “sources say team essentially has reached spending limit” while noting a more likely move is a trade involving players with similar salaries, like Ichiro Suzuki for a reliever (J.J. Putz?).

The whole “sources say team has interest in a player, team then denies report and interest in a player” routine is so very common during the offseason. Both sides, the club and the player (and his agent), want to control information. Agents will float reports about teams being interested in their players even if they aren’t just to drum up some leverage. Teams will deny interest in a player even if they want him because they don’t want other clubs to get involved and potentially drive up the price.

We see this all the time and it’s possible (if not likely) that neither Heyman and Olney (and Rosenthal) is wrong. The Yankees could indeed have interest in Drew and be denying it at the same time. They may want to keep things quiet so the Red Sox stay out of the mix. It’s also possible Boras leaked a fake rumor as a way of creating the appearance of a bidding war in an effort to coax every last dollar out of Boston. This isn’t some kind of crazy conspiracy theory. This stuff happens all winter and especially with rivals like the Yankees and Red Sox.

Teams and agents manipulate the media in an effort to control information and, for the most part, fans eat this stuff up because we love talking about potential roster moves and playing GM. At the same time, all the conflicting reports are just awful. The 24-hour news cycle is really second-by-second, given me updates in real time news cycle nowadays, so every little blurb finds it’s way onto the web and in front of fans. It’s exhausting. It really is.

It makes perfect sense for the Yankees to have interest in Drew following the Tanaka signing. It also makes sense that Boras would try to use them as negotiating leverage against the Red Sox. I don’t know what to believe and this is the aspect part of the offseason.

With a tattered infield, Yanks need Drew

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Only one spot remains on the Yankees’ bench, and chances are it will go to an infielder. With five outfielders already under contract, and with a questionable infield situation, the Yanks can use any reinforcements they can get at this point. Eduardo Nunez just isn’t going to cut it.

A few decent infielders remain on the free agent list, though Stephen Drew stands out as the greatest potential upgrade. He bounced back nicely last year after suffering a rough ankle injury that kept him out for much of 2011 and 2012. Now a free agent, he has seemingly few landing spots. The Yankees remain a logical match.

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are indeed internally discussing Drew as an option. Their chance of landing him “depends on the price,” but now that they’re over $189 million that price matters at least a little less than it did earlier this week.

As a Yankees official said earlier this winter, “We either have to be under $189MM or up over $200MM or more.” According to Cot’s the Yankees figure to be just a hair under $200 million right now, in terms of actual 2014 payroll (the benefits portion of the luxury tax pushes them over). Given that they’ve started every season since 2008 over $205 million in actual payroll, they should certainly have some room.

How much will Drew help? Two factors make him a bit more valuable to the Yankees than straight WAR. First is the team’s potential need at shortstop, not just this year but next year as well. If Jeter can’t cut it, they probably don’t want to fall back on Brendan Ryan as an every day guy. If Jeter is done after this year, Drew becomes even more valuable since he can man shortstop everyday in 2015.

Mike mentioned the second factor in his reflection on the Tanaka signing. A win might be going for $6 or $7 million on the open market, but where the Yankees stand right now each additional win is worth so much more since it brings them closer to the postseason. There isn’t any other player on the market that can more dramatically tip the scales for the Yanks.

Drew does come with his negatives. Most notably, as Mike mentioned when making the case for Drew, he isn’t rated very high defensively, and he doesn’t hit lefties well at all. With Jeter around, the Yanks can mitigate the latter. One point Mike didn’t mention was Drew’s extreme home/road splits in 2013 (.687 OPS on the road and .859 at home), but it’s not as though Drew’s moving from Fenway to PETCO. Yankee Stadium is plenty hitter friendly, and as Mike noted it might suit Drew’s swing very well.

As of right now, it appears Drew has few options. The Mets think he’s too expensive and only want a one-year deal. If that’s the case, we can rule them out because both the Yankees and the Red Sox would offer a similar deal. Then again, the Yankees might not be willing to spend that kind of money.

That would be a mistake. The Yankees have an opportunity to strengthen one of their weaknesses, adding valuable wins in their quest for a postseason berth and World Series Championship No. 28. They’re already over the luxury tax, and there appears no way they’ll slide under it next year or any time in the near future. Why not go all out at this point?